The Double Hour is creepy. An Italian romance swaddled in a thriller, director Giuseppe Capotondi’s film likes to mess with minds, both the audience’s and its protagonists’. There are thumps and phones ringing to break up dead silence; there are glimpses of ghosts that may or may not be real. Its narrative isn’t always linear, further clouding our viewing.
The Double Hour is also lame. After setting up a fantastic and disturbing spook story, Capotondi and his trio of writers offer a twist that’s more Dallas than I-see-dead-people. There’s another minor twist after that that adds a layer of intrigue, but it’s difficult to get past this insultingly facile explanation of all those bumps in the night to care a whole lot about what happens in the film’s final final chapter.
Discussing the plot without giving too much away would be impossible. When the story opens, we meet Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport), a Slovenian who’s living in Turin and working as a hotel maid. She’s at a speed-dating event and seemingly not too happy about it, but when she’s paired with the similarly mopey Guido (Filippo Timi), it seems a perfect match. Guido, a former cop and speed-dating veteran, is good-looking but depressing in a way that makes your skin crawl, an air that’s verified when he kicks out a woman he’s just slept with and throws a bottle at the door when she mentions she doesn’t have his number. But, alas, maybe it’s because he can’t get Sonia off his mind! Doesn’t exactly justify the outburst, but let’s go with it.
Going with it, at least regarding the romance, is what you’ll have to do to accept the movie’s thriller half. Sonia and Guido soon begin a courtship, but as we see it, it’s one that seems to involve only a date or two before a crime takes place. Really, though, they’ve fallen in love by this point, and their bond is strong enough to survive the trauma. You won’t be feeling it—better to focus on the film’s otherworldly tingles and suspend disbelief in terms of its emotional hollowness.
If Timi’s Guido is meant to be dark and guarded, the actor, a cross between Javier Bardem and a young Al Pacino, succeeds superbly. But it’s Rappoport who carries the film: Her Sonia is anguished by more than one sorrow (her estrangement with her father becomes a significant plot point) so she generally sleep-walks through life when she’s not being scared senseless by it. (Both actors won prizes at the Venice Film Festival.) Antonia Truppo and Fausto Russo Alesi also turn in stellar minor performances as a melancholic party girl and a creepy hotel guest, both of whom haunt Sonia in their own ways. In the end, a character is double-crossed and heartbroken. But so is the audience, led on by a film that ultimately torpedoes its early promises of excellence.
Meek’s Cutoff Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Meek’s Cutoff is a road movie—just one that’s set in 1845. Directed by Kelly Reichardt and written by her frequent collaborator Jon Raymond, it’s a spare, 19th-century Wendy and Lucy, a barely-there story that follows three families as they make their way across the Oregon Trail. Or, rather, eschew it as they try to take a shortcut. Obviously, this isn’t the best idea.
Led by a blowhard named Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood, unrecognizable with his explosion of facial hair), the would-be settlers trust that he knows his way across the Oregon desert, and where to find water. But they travel the dusty no-man’s land blindly, their water supply ever-dwindling along with their patience. The men (including Paul Dano and Will Patton) trust him, as do the meeker women (Zoe Kazan and Shirley Henderson). But Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy’s star) ain’t no fool. She knows they’re lost and she’s pissed about it. “I don’t blame him for not knowing,” she tells the others. “I blame him for saying he did.”
Another controversy stirs up when Emily spots and shoots at an Indian, whom they eventually capture. Meek wants to kill him, citing him as an enemy from the most malevolent tribe. “Even Indians despise these Indians,” he says, convinced the man is leaving clues for the rest of his tribe to find and murder them. But Emily and the others see a potential ally, one who knows the land and could save them. Emily starts feeding the Indian and repairing his boots. When the others look at her like she’s crazy, she responds, “I want him to owe me something.”
Since this is a Kelly Reichardt film, there’s little dialogue (none, in fact, for the first seven minutes): Most of the action comprises the settlers trudging along with their wagons and cattle across empty, wide-shot vistas. There’s only ambient sound—the wind, the animals, the splashing of what little water they have—and night scenes are lit by firelight. There are themes of power struggle and proto-feminism, which Reichardt and Raymond try to convey as minimally as they can.
Unlike Wendy and Lucy, however, Meek’s Cutoff doesn’t grip you emotionally. You see the settlers’ dirty, weathered hands and their obvious weariness, but you sympathize— a tad—instead of empathize. For all their collaborative strain, the characters don’t interact much, and besides Emily, none really stand out. With the men in beards and hats and the women in giant bonnets-as-blinders, in fact, the film could have cast no-names and gotten the same result. Williams, and especially Henderson and Kazan, are wasted.
Allergic to Hollywood storytelling conventions, Reichardt ends the film with a nonending, which might have worked if the preceding slice-of-life had been more satisfying. But just like the settlers, Meek’s Cutoff is stuck on a road to nowhere.