On Movies: Her own intrigue helped Rappoport win 'Double Hour' role

It's only fitting that The Double Hour, the doubly tricky Italian thriller starring Ksenia Rappoport, is all about deception, because the Russian actress began her improbable career in Italian movies by, well, telling a whole bunch of lies.

A few years back, when Giuseppe Tornatore was casting his psychological thriller The Unknown Woman - about a Ukrainian prostitute on the run in Italy - he interviewed Rappoport, who had worked, up to that point, solely in Russian films and theater. The pair had a brief conversation by phone, and then the director flew Rappoport to Rome for a meeting.

"This absolutely wonderful Italian director was looking for a leading lady for his movie, and he was looking everywhere, in Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and eventually in Russia," Rappoport recalls, speaking via a translator from her home in St. Petersburg. "I was invited to come to Rome for a screen test. And without barely a word of Italian I went there. . . . I couldn't imagine that I would have an opportunity to take part in a movie in Europe. It was a dream, but I didn't think it would happen.

"And when I came to see him, I thought it would be better to do it without an interpreter, because it's always much better to talk to a person directly. . . . So he was saying something in this beautiful, musical Italian language to me, and I was just smiling and nodding my head.

"And then I was asked whether I could drive, and I didn't even have a driver's license at that time, but I said I could. And he asked whether I could sing, and I really can't, but I said yes. And then he asked if I was free for the next three months . . . and I said yes, even though I was committed to doing 20 theater performances at this same time."

Rappoport landed the role (the film played festivals and U.S. art houses in 2008), learning Italian as she went along. And midway through the shoot another filmmaking Giuseppe - Giuseppe Capotondi, a video and commercial director - dropped by with a script. It was called The Double Hour, a noirish puzzler with elements of Hitchcock and Polanski, a love story laden with suspense, and with a head-spinning surprise or two. Rappoport read it, and again said yes.

The film, with Filippo Timi, opened Friday at the Ritz Five. Rappoport plays a Slovenian working at a hotel in Turin. Timi is an ex-cop she meets at a speed-dating session. Romance and strange business ensue.

"When I received the screenplay and I began to read it, when it came to the big twist, I jumped on my chair," Rappoport says. "I was absolutely taken aback. I certainly didn't expect what happens. And I like to think that the audience will be experiencing the same shock."

Rappoport, 37, won the best-actress prize at the 66th Venice Film Festival for her work in The Double Hour. Timi won the actor honor.

"It was quite unexpected, to tell you the truth, but of course it was wonderful and pleasant to be given this award," Rappoport says. "Especially because it was the first feature film for the director, Giuseppe. A part of this prize goes to him."

Rappoport has taken time off recently to have a child - a girl, quite audible during the phone interview. But the actress is already back at work. She has made another film in Italy, and then one with Gerard Depardieu - a drama based on the life of Rasputin.

And Rappoport confirms that there has been talk of a Hollywood remake of The Double Hour. It's one of those Euro thrillers that is ripe for the picking.

"When they call to ask me if I can speak English," she says - well, her translator says, suppressing a laugh - "I will of course tell them yes."

Phil Ochs gathers large circle of friends. Folk aficionados know all about Phil Ochs, the singer-songwriter who came out of the Greenwich Village coffeehouses of the early 1960s alongside Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and blazed a trail with his protest songs ("I Ain't Marching Anymore," "Draft Dodger Rag"), searing social commentary ("The Crucifixion"), and heartbreaking pop anthems ("Pleasures of the Harbor").

But even if you've never heard of Ochs - who committed suicide in 1976, at age 35 - Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune is a must-see documentary, which the Bryn Mawr Film Institute will screen at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. With interviews from Baez, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, Ed Sanders, Tom Hayden, Christopher Hitchens, Sean Penn (who has been developing an Ochs biopic for years), and more, plus amazing archival footage, concert excerpts, and rare recordings, director Kenneth Bowser presents a portrait not only of an immensely talented and immensely messed-up artist but also of an immensely messed-up era. The war in Vietnam, the assassinations of two Kennedys and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Kent State shootings, the Chicago Eight - a time of historic tumult, dashed hopes, broken dreams. And it all happened on Ochs' watch.

"When we were trying to get this film off the ground, I would say that this has to transcend the story of a '60s folksinger who kills himself," says Michael Ochs, Phil's younger brother and onetime manager and a producer of the film. "It has to be a much bigger story than that, and by making it the soundtrack of the times, Ken accomplishes that. You could not even care about Phil and still be amazed at how manic-depressive the times were."

The BMFI screening of Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune is cosponsored by the Philadelphia Folksong Society. Philadelphia radio fixture and folk savant Gene Shay will introduce the film, and lead a post-screening discussion at Milk Boy Coffee next door to the theater.

For tickets and information, visit www.brynmawrfilm.org or call 610-527-9898.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.