The Double Hour, a spiffy new Italian film noir, combines mystery and suspense with a love story in a twisty plot that’s worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Viewers are kept guessing until the final denouement. The romantic leads, Ksenia Rappoport and Filippo Timi, though little known at the time, won best male and female acting awards at the 66th Venice International Film Festival in 2009. The Double Hour also received the Young Cinema Award at the Venice event.
The title refers to the moment on a digital watch when the minutes and hours are the same, for example 12:12. When this coincidence is noticed, the observer gets to make a wish. “It’s about the second chance or one’s capacity for grabbing that chance when it comes,” says director Giuseppe Capotondi. A Samuel Goldwyn Film release, the movie debuted in New York and Los Angeles in April, followed by a national rollout.
Tautly and expertly directed, it may come as somewhat of a surprise that The Double Hour is only the first feature film that Capotondi has helmed. Starting out as a fashion photographer, he has made a name for himself over the past 15 years doing music videos for pop sensations like the Spice Girls and directing commercials for high profile clients, including BMW, Vodafone and Campari.
“I think almost every director of commercials would like to try making a full-length movie,” he asserts, “and when I received this script I decided it was the right one for me.” The film cost $4.3 million to make, not a lot more than the budget for some of the commercials he directs, Capotondi notes. “I have been doing commercials for 15 years, so at the end of the day it’s not that much of a difference. It’s mainly that it’s longer,” he says.. “The biggest difference was in not having a client, no Coca Cola guy looking over your shoulder.”
According to the director, coming up with an expert production crew was the least of his worries: “I really had a good time shooting the film, and what made it easier was I used my usual crew from my commercials – so it was like a big family. They know me and they knew what I was looking for.” He jibes that “they also are the only ones who can stand working with me.”
The production team consisted of director of photography Tat Radcliffe; production designer Totoi Santoro; editor Guido Notari; costume designer Roberto Chiocchi; composer Pasquale Catalano, and sound recordists Alessandro Zanon and Silvio Moraes.
Radcliffe’s wide-screen lensing is handsome without being splashy. “I put a lot of pressure on him, because I wanted many scenes shot in low light,” says Capotondi. The cinematographer obliged with atmospheric backlighting. Other scenes are shot from novel angles. When Rappoport as Sonia is taking a bath and begins hearing mysterious noises, she is filmed from above as she lolls in the tub, adding a creepy feeling that tips its hat to the shower scene in Psycho, though it’s nowhere near as gruesome. The riveting face of the actress and her ability to dominate the screen was used to good effect. “I asked Tat for a lot of close-ups, because she is not only beautiful, but such a good actress that she can express what she is thinking by just a shift of her eyes,” says the director.
The film was shot in just under eight weeks in Turin, a northern Italian city where the film is also set. A large house was found that production designer Santoro transformed into what appear to be multiple locations, ranging from Sonia’s apartment, to a hospital room, to a fancy abode where an art heist takes place. The back of the house also trails down to a lake, which serves as the backdrop for a pivotal scene in the forest where the lovers are wounded by marauders disguised in sinister balaclava masks, cleverly conceived by costume designer Chiocchi.
The Double Hour is divided into three sections where the plot and the characters mutate creating a puzzle that is not resolved until the end. Adding to the challenge, the scenes were not filmed chronologically, so a lot of the burden fell to Notari, the editor to make sense of the interlaced narratives. “During filming I feared it was going to be a mess but in the end it turned out very well,” says Capotondi. Making the job a bit easier, there were not a lot of takes. “Almost everything we shot we used, so the editor wasn’t overwhelmed by too much footage,” he notes.
The sound design by recording keys Zanon and Moraes enhances the dark atmospherics. And sound itself is part of the plot. Guido played by Timi, who meets Sonia at a speed-dating club, is a former policeman who has become a security guard at the mansion that gets looted, and has perfected a highly-sensitive microphone that he uses to record nature sounds as well anything unusual in the surroundings.
There are also the sudden jolts or whispers that send viewers to the edge of their seats, a tradition in horror movies of being frightened by what you hear but don’t see. “It’s become a cliché, but it still produces quite an impact,” says Capotondi. Interwoven is Catalano’s score which is brooding and minimalist, adding to the tense atmosphere of The Double Hour.
When it comes to film noir, Italy has a sub-genre known as giallo, whose most famous exponents were directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Their most influential work was from the 1960s and 1970s, ranging from outright shockers to Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars, frequently scored by Italian master composer Enrico Morricone. Capotondi says he was influenced by both directors, whose movies he saw repeatedly on television as a teenager, as well as by Japanese horror films. In The Double Hour, the director has taken giallo and combined it with other genres, such as romance and mystery, raising it to a new level of aesthetic story-telling.