Francesco Rosi's "Hands Over The City," though released in 1963, displays remarkable insight and timeliness in exposing the political machinations within a particular city government. It seems not a lot has changed over the years as profit motivations and winning at any cost are still more significant political agendas than any social or environmental concerns. The film was, and still remains, a relevant examination of political process at its most compromised. Having gone through the many questions and controversies surrounding New Orleans' Katrina disaster--where the city's infrastructure was called into question--I couldn't help but think how universal the themes presented within "Hands" have turned out to be.
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.