Hands Over the City (Criterion Collection)
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Anchored by a ferocious lead performance from Rod Steiger as a scheming land developer, Francesco Rosi's Hands over the City moves breathlessly from a cataclysmic building collapse to the backroom negotiations of civic leaders vying for power in the City Council election. Plunging headfirst into the politically driven real-estate speculation that has devastated Naples' civilian landscape, Hands over the City, which was awarded the Golden Lion at the 1963 Venice Film Festival, remains a blistering work of social realism.
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The film begins as a group of land developers, led by Rod Steiger, decide to purchase public lands to privately expand their housing projects. Pushed through in three days due to political connections, the project is called into question when their construction crew inadvertently brings down a building that is still inhabited. It's a harrowing and believable scene that sets the stage for the rest of the film.
The first half of "Hands" depicts the investigation into the tragedy. Although it is clear that Steiger and his group are culpable, it becomes a moot point as the committee assigned to research the matter is shuffled from office to office. In one of the more affecting sequences in the film, the group meets up with the various parties within the bureaucratic machine that have a hand in construction projects and each one passes the buck to the next. With lack of any cooperation, the quest for truth never reaches fruition.
The second half deals more with the repercussions of the event. Steiger, whose reputation has been questioned, still wants to be appointed City Commissioner. And here, we witness many boardroom meetings and backroom deals. It's matter-of-fact and well presented, an intriguing look behind the scenes. One Commissioner who does not want to be in league with Steiger tries to withdraw from his party. As he is told, "In political life, moral indignation is a worthless commodity." A blunt and realistic observation, even in today's world.
"Hands Over the City" is ultimately more about processes than people. The characters here are really secondary to the dealmaking. A fascinating and intelligent film, check out "Hands"--you might be surprised how timely it seems. KGHarris, 12/06.
Hands Over the City brilliantly exposes how big city development operates and how construction companies grease the wheels to get what they want and this involves paying off city officials so that these companies can do what they want with little bureaucratic interference. Of course, it is the people who suffer - dying in building collapses due to shoddy construction materials and practices or living in substandard conditions because it is all that they can afford.
Rosi has previously made a significant contribution to political cinema with Salvatore Giuliano and Hands Over the City continued to do what he described as the ability to master "the delicate balance between reality itself and an interpretation of reality." As the director has said, his movie is about a game of alliances - both economical and political with the general public unwitting pawns unaware of what is happening and in the end suffering from the consequences while the powers that be remain rich and powerful. Hands Over the City is a wonderfully angry protest movie that also entertains and features a powerful performance by Rod Steiger.
There is an interview with Francesco Rosi who talks about making the movie. He says that, "experiencing reality through political actions, through political events, is very, very difficult. You have to have a very practiced eye."
Italian film critic Tullio Kezich talks briefly about Rosi's films. He finds his work fascinating because it upsets and disturbs. He describes Hands Over the City as "an analysis of a criminal situation depicted in a very powerful way."
Film critic Michel Ciment interviews Rosi and screenwriter Raffaele la Capria about their initial inspiration for the movie. They grew up together in Naples, where the film is set, and so they knew the city well and had a vested interest in its state of affairs.
Filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin takes a critical look at the film, describing it as "cinema of claustrophobia" and relentless in its look at corruption. He points out that many of the characters yell at each other but don't really listen to what is being said.
Finally, the most substantial extra is Neapolitan Diary (1992), Rosi's feature-length documentary that revisits Naples 30 years after he made Hands Over the City to examine its current state of civic affairs. He shows that things have not gotten better and are in fact worse.
It's well worth seeing.
But really for fans of the form and the actors.
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