Hands Over the City (Le Mani sulla città) [DVD]
Director : Francesco Rosi
Screenplay : Francesco Rosi & Raffaele La Capria
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1963
Stars : Rod Steiger (Edoardo Nottola), Salvo Randone (De Angelis), Guido Alberti (Maglione), Angelo D’Alessandro (Balsamo), Carlo Fermariello (De Vita), Terenzio Cordova (Prosecutor), Dante Di Pinto (President of inquiry committee), Vincenzo Metafora (Mayor)
To follow up Salvatore Giuliano, the multi-layered political exposé about murder and corruption that put him on the international cinematic map, director Francisco Rosi decided to plough the same rough terrain. In Hands Over the City (Le Mani sulla città), Rosi returned to his native Naples to explore the shady backroom real estate dealings that were changing the face of the city. The opening credits fade in and out against vertiginous aerial shots of Naples--with its close-knit high-rises standing precariously along the hilly terrain--that are both strangely beautiful and decidedly unnerving in their bird’s-eye depiction of urban claustrophobia.
As was the case in Salvatore Giuliano, Rosi’s primary concern is exposing the true mechanisms of power; thus, much of the film takes place amid squabbling politicians and real estate power brokers, all of whom are striving for power and profit with little if any thought of how their actions will affect the people who live in Naples. The towering buildings themselves--so stark and so crowded--which are so prominently displayed as the film’s bookends, come to stand as symbols of both progress and the rottenness of ethical compromise; the move forward is constantly tinged with questions of power and profit, which Rosi boldly depicts in the film’s opening scene.
The narrative drive begins with the collapse of an older building during the process of building a new one, which results in the death of two men and the crippling of a young boy. “Who is at fault?” is the question driving the film’s protagonist, an earnest city council member named De Vita (Carlo Fermariello), but it is not a mystery to the audience. Unlike Salvatore Giuliano, which wrapped its political exposé in a complex narrative mystery, Hands Over the City makes it clear from the opening scenes that the city is rife with corruption; the only question is whether De Vita will be able to do anything about it.
The film’s antagonist is Edoardo Nottola (Rod Steiger), a real estate developer and city council member who has amassed such power and influence that, when faced with sacrificing his son to the authorities or compromising his own power position, he chooses the former without so much as a moment of regret. Yet, Nottola remains something of an enigma, largely because he is frequently absent from the screen, discussed much more than he is seen. We know almost nothing about him beyond his political dynamics, which suggests that there is not much else to him; his two-dimensionality is not a fault of the film, but a reality of the character. Rosi gives us several wordless scenes in which Nottola is contemplating, but we are never privy to his thoughts or feelings, which gives him an unnerving air of soullessness.
For all its ideological power, as a drama Hands Over the City is hampered by Rosi’s purposefully decentered approach that focuses more on political machinations than human emotion. Despite the engaging cinematography by veteran Gianni Di Venanzo (who also shot Salvatore Giuliano, as well as numerous films by Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni) and an intriguing script, it’s hard to engage in the narrative beyond the surface level of political maneuvering. It’s a chess game, albeit one with significant consequences. We feel for De Vita if only because we recognize how frustrating it is to be constantly spun in circles; in trying to track down information in the collapsed building inquiry, he is sent again and again to the next office where is promised information that never materializes. We see that he is caught in a web of deceit, and we sense that he is a genuine man with real concerns, a sentiment that has no place in the political world. As one character says, “There is only one sin in politics: Losing.”
The casting of Rod Steiger, an American actor surrounded almost entirely by nonprofessional Italians (many of whom were drawn from Neopolitan politics), was an interesting, but ultimately problematic choice. At the time, Steiger was a well-regarded character actor who had yet to reach true star status, and Rosi cast him based on his powerhouse performances in On the Waterfront (1954) and The Big Knife (1955). Steiger conveys the right sense of corruption and ruthlessness, but his performance is limited by the fact that he delivered all of his lines in English and was dubbed by another actor in Italian. Especially given Rosi’s neorealist inclinations, bringing in a Hollywood actor, even one of Steiger’s prowess, feels forced and unnecessary in an otherwise powerful film.
|Hands Over the City Criterion Collection Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Set|
|Audio||Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||October 24, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Hands Over the City is presented in a new high-definition anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer taken from an original 35mm fine-grain print. The image looks very good throughout, albeit slightly softer than many of Criterion’s recent discs (I would assume this is the intended look of the film). The black-and-white cinematography is excellent, with good detail and strong black levels, and the MTI Digital Restoration System has removed virtually all dirt and signs of age, making the image very nearly pristine. There is some obvious grain in the image, but again this is most likely representative of the film’s look. The original Italian monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from the 35mm optical track and digitally restored, likewise sounds excellent, with virtually no hiss and a surprisingly deep sound.|
|The big news on this release is the inclusion of Neapolitan Diary (Diario napoletano) Francesco Rosi’s feature-length sequel to Hands Over the City, which is presented in a solid anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Produced in 1992, it is a self-reflexive semi-documentary in which Rosi and his cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis investigate the rather sorry state of Naples 30 years after the original film. Originally made for Italian television, it has never been released on video in the U.S., so its inclusion on this disc is major news. There are also several new video interviews included on the second disc. In one interview, director Francesco Rosi (14 min.) discusses his political intentions in making the film, focusing quite a bit on its relationship to realism. In a brief 5-minute interview, long-time Italian film critic Tullio Kezich discusses what he sees as the film’s importance and its controversial reception at the Venice Film Festival. Finally, French filmmaker/rabble-rouser Jean-Pierre Gorin gives his take on the film in a 10-minute interview, focusing primarily on Rosi’s politics. There is also a 15-minuet video discussion in which film critic/historian Michel Ciment interviews Rosi and co-writer Raffaele La Capria. Lastly, the insert booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Stuart Klawams and a 2004 interview with Rosi originally published in the inaugural issue of CinemaCittà, a journal about architecture, urban studies, and cinema.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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