Pic showcases the acting chops and engaging screen presence of Ksenia Rappoport.

A foreign-born chambermaid working in a plush Turinese hotel finds love but then seems to lose her way in “The Double Hour,” the effective debut feature of Italo musicvid helmer Giuseppe Capotondi. Pic further showcases the acting chops and engaging screen presence of Ksenia Rappoport (“The Unknown Woman”) as her character undergoes various shocks and transformations. Not so much a genre movie as a movie that switches between genres — and comes out on top — this film will be tough to market but should find a home at passionate distribs and fests. It goes out locally Oct. 9.

A far cry from his work as a pro shutterbug for glossy mags such as Vanity Fair and Marie Claire, and his musicvideos for Keane, the Spice Girls and others, Capotondi’s first film has a measured pace, a deceptively simple and unglamorous look, and an admirably complex (though never complicated) narrative.

The title refers to any time when the hour and minute indications consist of the same numbers (i.e., 10:10). According to serial speed-dater Guido (Filippo Timi, Mussolini in “Vincere”), each time one catches a clock showing the double hour, you can make a wish. Or at least, that’s what he tells his latest conquest, Italo-Slovenian chambermaid Sonia (Rappoport).

Sonia is new to the northern industrial town of Turin and the speed-dating scene, and has just started working at a local hotel. Against all odds, the two hit it off straight away and a romance quickly develops. But about 20 minutes in, the lovebirds find themselves held at gunpoint during a burglary, and shots are fired.

Remaining 75 minutes detail the bumpy road to Sonia’s (and the audience’s) understanding of what really happened, with Capotondi and the screenwriters going through different genres — horror, mystery, psychodrama — and their required elements in rapid succession. Though info is only gradually parceled out and backtracking is necessary several times, editor Guido Notari and the screenwriters keep things impressively lean and uncluttered. Only in a few instances do the jumps and twists attract so much attention to themselves that they impede the natural flow of the story.

Narrative glue is provided by Capotondi’s mastery of tone and Rappoport’s magnetic perf. Her sheer screen presence and ambiguous take on Sonia will, much like in her star-making turn in “The Unknown Woman,” have auds sticking with her no matter what. Timi, in a smaller role, oozes macho sexuality; Antonia Truppo adds some lightness as a saucy colleague of Sonia’s.

Shot in widescreen by d.p. Tat Radcliffe, the film has a deliberate, slightly rough look that imparts an air of apparent normality that works well. Production designer Totoi Santoro’s work on Sonia’s barely furnished working-class digs speaks volumes about her life. Sound work is also strong, and other tech credits are fine.

Pic hides quite a few pleasures that might only become apparent on multiple viewings. In a nod to the title, the screenplay’s biggest twist is revealed exactly one hour and one minute into the film.

The Double Hour

Italy

Production

A Medusa release of a Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Medusa Film presentation of an Indigo Film, Medusa Film production, in association with Film Commission Torino Piemonte, Mercurio Cinematografia. (International sales: SND, Paris.) Produced by Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima. Executive producer, Viola Prestieri. Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi. Screenplay, Alessandro Fabbri, Ludovica Rampoldi, Stefano Sardo.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Tat Radcliffe; editor, Guido Notari; music, Pasquale Catalano; production designer, Totoi Santoro; costume designer, Roberto Chiocchi; sound (Dolby Digital), Alessandro Zanon; associate producer, Carlotta Calori; assistant director, Davide Bertoni; casting, Annamaria Sambucco. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 9, 2009. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michele di Mauro, Lucia Poli.

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