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Wednesday
Dec092015

La doppia ora

Time will win, we are told by pundits of black holes and red giants, which means our choices are few and simple. We can bemoan our fate and live out our days in misery, or perhaps, one grey and fitful evening, abridge them violently; or we may accept our lot as temporary links on a chain of death that extends for billions of years and throw caution, money, and our own souls to the wind in the hope of forgetting our breaths' futility. Everyone, regardless of history and beliefs, will come to think the latter scenario the more palatable. After all, how could anyone reasonable even entertain a third scenario? What great mind would intuit the notion that our actions could be meaningful and that the pain we cause others could cause us more than sporadic remorse? A fair way to digress into the vagaries of this film.

We begin in a hotel room in this Italian city already known for mystical objects. A young, tomboyish woman is watching a culinary program trumpeting the value of honey and bread, and the appurtenances scattered in lusty haste on the floor – including a pair of high heels that would be hard to imagine her wearing – indicate she may have not been alone the previous night. As a chambermaid enters the room, she assures her that they will not get in each other's way. The maid smartly begins with the bathroom then finds the same tomboy at her elbow admiring her in that unique way some women are allowed to stare at other women. "You look better with your hair down," she says with a sad smile that conveys an offer, and the next thing we hear is a loud crash. The camera scurries to the bedroom to find an open window, a balcony, and a few flights below, our anonymous admirer of a moderately attractive, thirtysomething chambermaid sprawled on an expanding pool of blood. Only towards the middle of the film do we receive a hint at the role of this sequence, and even then the provided clarification lugs a few other questions in tow. 

From this oddly dissonant scene we are thrown into the world of speed dating, where our chambermaid Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) looks on as each suitor devotes his three minutes to sly winks and exhortations to mark him down as a "yes." After a few hopeless sessions, there appears Guido (Filippo Timi). Guido is not particularly handsome for an Italian male, and his thick beard seems like a fortress to a mouth which frowns a little too much. That mouth remains mum until it suddenly insists that Sonia indicate "no" for the fellow who just departed (a quick look at her survey reveals a uniform voting pattern). "I'm the last," he adds wryly, "and I may be the worst of all." There is, however, something remarkably insincere to such a pronouncement. Is he malevolent? Is he someone she already knows? Or is he simply participating as a favor to the bar's manager since there always seem to be "thirty women and twenty men" for these games? As coats and owners are reunited they meet again, walking and talking not so much flirtatiously as sadly cognizant of each other's loneliness (singles bars and cruises can indeed be some of the saddest places on earth). They part company after he makes a throwaway proposal that confident men are supposed to make and confident women are supposed to refuse – but neither one of our protagonists is confident. And as he explains the film's title and punctuates the explanation with the acute cynicism of a victim, we begin to suspect darker paths ahead. 

Guido has his graphic way with another woman from the egg-timer school of romance (presumably they both checked "yes") whom, of course, he promptly throws out of his apartment with the concession that she will be allowed to call him. When she knocks moments later and a rueful but very shut door confesses that it doesn't have his number, he batters it with an angry bottle; the difference between La doppia ora and most giallo films is that we then see him cleaning up the bottle and its mess. Meanwhile back at our hotel a smiling Sonia is told by Margherita, another chambermaid: "You've smiled four times in the month you've been here, and three of them were today." Margherita rightly suspects that Sonia has found a man, and warns her appropriately: "You have to be aware of good-looking men. They drink." If that were the only thing they did. Sonia and Guido will see each other again, of course, and they will stroll around at midnight, chain-smoke, and casually reveal small things about themselves. Guido was a cop; Sonia was abandoned by her father; Guido is a security guard; Sonia liked to wander through the Slovenian woods as a child. Or was it the Italian woods? From her accent (Rappoport is a well-known Russian actress), the viewer may accept that Sonia is not an Italian national; yet if she is truly a Slovene, why is she then so jumpy when one of Guido's cop friends pulls up in his car? And why, with her excellent command of the language, apparent intelligence, and European Union passport, is she relegated to taking a job usually reserved for immigrants with none of those three qualifications? We masticate briefly on these matters just as Guido and Sonia, now perhaps in love, spend a sleepy Sunday afternoon at the art-filled villa whose elaborate security system Guido alone controls. And as they draw closer, shy and yet passionate, into their first on-screen display of affection, they are interrupted by a masked group of armed men who incapacitate them and begin looting the same villa Guido is supposed to be protecting. 

What happens thereafter is both perfectly logical and the stuff of near-supernatural events, and nothing more should be revealed. Nevertheless, the careful viewer should ask himself the following questions: Why is Sonia listening to Spanish instructional tapes (on the day of the attack, her tape says: "Please help me. Today is a very important day for me.")? What do we really know about that photo of Guido and his allegedly deceased wife? Why does Sonia seem to know who Dolores Dominguez is? Why does Guido's cop friend Dante relate to him a long story about his own ex-wife? Why does one of the hotel guests call Sonia a "go-go dancer"? We may ask to what extant La doppia ora has the makings of a great film, whether the subject matter it treats is too slim and, ultimately, too personal to merit such status, questions justified by the film's curt if inevitable conclusion. While these pages have repeatedly championed the personal over the universal, the truly trivial – petty disputes, vendettas, grudges between schoolchildren, as well as anything and everything materialistic – is not fit to print. Sonia's tragedy, if that is the right word, is magnified in our common struggle against the past, against its prejudices and our mistakes, and the cloven structure of the film betrays a deeper divide between what was taken from her and what she took back. Took back? Don't let the poor-immigrant-ignored-daughter rigmarole fool you. Sonia, you see, is a taker, if an occasionally reluctant one. Her father may have thrown her to the wolves, but she had already made their acquaintance and doesn't fear them quite as much as you would think. And maybe we should recall that famous book about another femme fatale and the quote about being borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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