I love me a good suspense film. I also love me some good direction. I also love me proper grammar. The Double Hour is a solid Italian thriller which, though it does falter here and there, has some really wonderfully strong moments.
As with some of the other films I’m writing about on here I’ll be posting a link to a more formal review shortly (probably tomorrow), so I want to talk about a few elements aside from simple plotting. These are small issues. For this post those would be: popular music, and sound design.
Brief plot: Sonia and Guido meet on a blind date. They fall in love (sort of). Botched robbery = Guido gets shot and killed. Sonia goes slightly insane thinking she sees him everywhere. And of course…things aren’t what they seem.
Anyone remember the fun if overrated French thriller Tell No One from a few years back? You do? Awesome. Then you’ll recall that one of the key plot points in that film was one of the main character’s recollection of a U2 song. This also happens to be a major problem in the film. In The Double Hour it’s The Cure that acts as clue. Though I like the song, it feels a little goofy in here and it’s usage, in hindsight is believable though still a bit laughable. What I’m really interested in though is a) the song choice and b) how and when the director decides to use it.
What drives a decision for pop music in a film? Is it just that the director (or musical director) loves it? I always get that feeling. Pre-existing material – like the visible spine of a book – always feels like the director letting the audience know his or her tastes. And sort of bragging. I’m guilty of this. I had some book spines in a short film I made. It bugs me to look back on it.
Maybe this is just my own idiosyncrasies. The music in The Double Hour plays in two ways in terms of sound perspective. When The Cure song first goes on in the car it’s relatively believable. That is, believable in film terms: the music is loud when the camera is in the car, and drops down significantly when outside of the car (even though, at the distance the camera is from the car, we wouldn’t actually be able to hear it at all).
Capotondi though, reverses this usage later. Sonia is in the bathtub. She goes under the water and hears The Cure. She comes up. No music. Back under – music. Up – silence. This is a reversal in two ways, one being exceedingly obvious: it’s illogical to hear music underwater without a source that plays it…underwater. But also because it’s the exact opposite of the music in the car and therefore decidedly and pointedly unnatural. Now, this makes sense once we hit the third act of the film and certain “believable/unbelievable” elements are revealed, but it’s a nice example of a clue that comes through in the technical end of filmmaking and not through scripted exposition. That is to say: when the mechanics of the film are revealed to be at odds with reality, well, we can say that the scene is at odds with reality.
Sound design in here: I don’t know who should be credited with these – the listed sound department consists of five people. I’d imagine maybe it should be Alessandro Zanon, who is simply credited with “Sound.” Regardless, the sound design – I’m mostly talking about non-diegetic (sound with no source in the world of the film) – melds beautifully with the score and really adds a frightening amount of tension in scenes where there would be none, or at least comparatively little, without it.
One particular case-in-point: early on Sonia and Guido walk outside from his job as security guard. The first three shots are moving, and all without either character in them. The music soars along with the pretty exteriors, but the sound design subtly adds a layer of unspoken unease. It’s a masterful moment, with several elements intentionally at odds with each other. The score and the beauty of the cinematography work against the emptiness of the frames and the sound design. Beauty + unease = the carefree nature of the moment and the violence to come. All of this comes through without dialogue or otherwise heavy-handed exposition. We as filmgoers are aware of all filmic elements, and Capotondi plays to that knowledge.