28 March 2014

Masters Of Cinema Blu-ray Review: Hands Over The City (Le mani sulla città)

Drama, World Cinema
Eureka! Entertainment
BD/DVD Release Date:
31st March 2014 (UK)
Francesco Rosi
Rod Steiger, Salvo Randone, Guido Alberti,
Buy:Le Mani Sulla Città (Hands Over the City)(Masters of Cinema) (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray + DVD] [1963]

Francesco Rosi’s masterful Hands Over the City ends on the following statement, “The characters and events shown are imaginary, the social and environmental context is real.” The words appear over aerial shots of Naples, mirroring the aerial shots of the title sequence. The sequences show the extent of housing expansion in the city, panning over rows of tower blocks perched precariously atop the sloping land. These images bring the film full circle, their intention to show the continuous cycle of political corruption, with the closing statement there to illustrate the reality surrounding the films context. As Rosi says, “I wanted to make a film on something very precise, the dishonourable actions of those in political and economic power in a city that was undergoing change.”

The film opens on an arid stretch of agricultural ground a stone’s throw away from the encroaching city. Edoardo Nottola (Rod Steiger), a right-wing councilman and wealthy developer, addresses a group of potential partners, arguing for the profit potential of buying up this undeveloped land. The film cuts to a model of the proposed construction, the scene making it immediately clear that Nottola’s position within the ruling government gets him what he wants, with the money he earns from the real estate investments flowing back into the party. The narrative takes off after the title sequence when a building adjacent to one of Nottola’s construction sites collapses, killing two people and leaving a child seriously injured. Left-wing councillor De Vita (Carlo Fermariello, himself a real-life councillor) is angered by this incident and calls for an inquiry into Nottola’s complicity in the tragedy.

With the aid of Gianni Di Venanzo’s sublime cinematography, the rest of the film concerns itself with the political meetings taking place in the city council chambers, offices, archives, and private residences, as those involved with the inquiry try to find a consensus. Rosi meticulously unpicking the tangled mess of political corruption to bring the film full circle. In paralleling the beginning of the film at its end, what Hands Over the City does is make visible the perpetual cycle of corruption that occurs in society and points out the difficulties in attaining political reform. As Rosi says, “I asked myself very openly about the problems which seemed to block any chance of serious reform.” The realisation that the films message remains pertinent today is hard to take.


Shane James

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