Film review of Giuseppe Capotondi’s “The Double Hour” (Italy, 2009)
Recall the searing feeling of betrayal that encompasses the moment you find out that someone is not at all the person you know him or her to be. There’s the upheaval of all the groundwork you’ve lain with this person, the feeling of having been exploited, and ultimately—most painfully—the newfound distrust in your own perception of reality. The Double Hour sustains these feelings for a grueling 95 minutes, serving the worst kind of betrayal on a silver platter—and it tastes great.
From the initial scene, Kseniya, our protagonist, draws us into her vulnerability. She is a poor hotel maid from Slovenia serving Italy’s elite, and her existence is permeated with an overwhelming loneliness. She’s barely sleepwalking through the routines that comprise her days, but there’s something about her that drives her forward. This is evident in the distracted silences that sometimes consume her while conversing with others, the intensity of her eyes, and the swiftness of her movements despite her dreary reality. Kseniya is captivating: immediately she holds hostage not only our attention, but also our sympathy. Thus, when Kseniya meets a man for whom she genuinely seems to care, survives a horrifically traumatic experience that leaves him dead, and has to return to her previous lifestyle more alone than ever, we feel for her. This, however, is when first-time director Giuseppe Capotondi begins to wreak beautifully constructed cinematic havoc. Is Kseniya becoming schizophrenic in the aftermath of the trauma? Is she the victim of an intricate web of secrets and lies that threaten to entwine her irrevocably? Or is there some knowledge of which we are being deprived? The plot soon becomes inscrutable; narrative threads dissolve into nonlinear, surreal scenes that may or may not reflect reality. Despite the fact that we’re inside her head, we have no idea whether or not Kseniya’s depiction of reality is to be trusted. Still, she continues to elicit emotion within us, swallowing us into the vortex of her cryptic world.
Claustrophobic cinematography and an expansive, multifaceted soundscape lay the foundation for this incredibly innovative, genre-bending Italian film. The Double Hour shamelessly toys with audience expectation and ultimately leaves us with that searing feeling of betrayal that is so familiar in life yet so rarely explored in cinema. Both entertaining and thought provoking, The Double Hour is a commendable first effort for Capotondi, which will inevitably propel him into further explorations of untouched cinematic territory.