May 4, 2011

LIMITED RELEASE: “The Double Hour,” “Incendies” & “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”


Plot spoilers are even more problematic when it comes to limited releases, because by definition they’re only being seen by a few people in certain selected locations, and–if they’re good–will ideally be discovered by audiences over time.  Which is a roundabout way of saying that I strongly recommend, but can reveal almost nothing about, the marvelous new Italian drama THE DOUBLE HOUR beyond its premise, or I’ll give too much away.  So here’s that premise:  in Turin, a Russian/Italian hotel chambermaid named Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) attends a speed-dating night at a local club.  There she meets Guido (Filippo Timi), a former cop and now a security guard who’s a widower and an alcoholic.  A spark is struck between them; then there is a robbery, a shooting, and–I have to stop.  Double Hour has a remarkable variety of tricks up its sleeve, not in the mindbending sense of an Inception (everything, ultimately, is explained, and it does all make sense), but through intricate and tricky storytelling where what you’re seeing is rarely what’s actually going on.  Giuseppe Capotondi, making his directing debut, manages the extraordinary feat of combining this kind of guile with romance, mystery, melancholy and surprise (the excellent script is by Alessandro Fabri, Ludovica Rampoldi, and Stefano Sardo), and the actors give tremendous, layered performances.  You’ll just have to take my word for it:  The Double Hour is Europe’s best genre surprise since Tell No One. Worth a Ticket.   (Goldwyn – 95 min. – unrated – 7 Theatres)
The Canadian (French-language) INCENDIES, directed by Denis Villeneuve, also asks for a spoiler alert, although of the more conventional don’t-give-away-the-ending type.  Incendies, which was a nominee for last year’s Best Foreign-Langauge Film Oscar, is structured as a mystery.  When Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) dies, she leaves a strange bequest for her twin children Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette):  Jeanne is to deliver a letter to her vanished father, Simon to bring one to a previously unknown brother; only when both are successful can they put a stone on Nawal’s grave and read a third letter from her to them.  The search requires them to travel to the Middle Eastern country (seemingly Lebanon, although never explicitly identified) where Nawal was born, and to journey through that region’s tangled and tragic 20th Century history.  Nawal’s story, it turns out, is brutal to an extent that is ultimately more symbolic than believable in a realistic sense (Velleneueve’s script is based on a play by Wadji Mouawad, and sometimes shows its theatrical roots).  At times, the movie is so concerned with hiding its secrets that it becomes more confusing than it needs to be, and the ultimate revelations are so enmeshed with the political and social statements being made, that it becomes difficult to discuss the latter without revealing the twist.  All this can become a slog over more than 2 hours.  Still, Incendies is far more dramatically intense and effective in its moral complications than the recent and somewhat similar Miral, and the acting and cinematography (by Andre Turpin) are first-rate.  A film that may benefit from the repeat and back buttons on a homevideo player.    Watch It At Home.  (Sony Pictures Classics – 130 minutes – R – 10 Theatres)
No spoiler problems in Werner Herzog’s CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, unless you were afraid of finding out the content of 30,000-year old cave paintings.  (Shhh:  they’re mostly horses, lions and bears.)  The Chauvet caves in France were sealed by a giant rockslide thousands of years ago, which resulted in the preservation of these amazing works of art, the most extensive prehistoric collection yet found on earth.  By Herzog’s standards, his account and tour of the caves is quite straightforward (aside from a bizarre epilogue involving albino alligators and a brief fascination with the circus performer history of one scientist).  Although the physical conditions of the filming were very demanding, as only a bare minimum of equipment and lights could be brought into the caves, and the filmmakers had to keep their distance from the paintings themselves, Herzog managed to shoot the film in 3D, providing a model for non-gimmicky, visually justified use of that technology.  With the illusion that they are in touchable proximity, the spectacular contents of the caves are even more breathtaking, and although the content of Cave is not much different than a television documentary (it was co-financed by the History Channel), the technology renders it Worth a Ticket.  (IFC/Sundance Selects – 90 minutes – unrated – 5 Theatres)


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."