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HANDS OVER THE CITY (LE MANI SULLA CITTA) (director/writer: Francesco Rosi; screenwriters: Raffaele La Capria/Enzo Provenzale/Enzo Forcella; cinematographer: Gianni di Venanzo; editor: Mario Serandrei; music: Piero Piccioni; cast: Rod Steiger (Eduardo Nottola), Guido Alberti (Maglione, Politician), Salvo Randone (Professor Luigi De Angelis), Marcello Cannavale (Friend of Nottola), Alberto Conocchia (Friend of Nottola), Carlo Fermariello (De Vita), Angelo D’Alessandro(Balsamo), Vincenzo Metafora (Mayor), Dany París (Dany); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lionello Santi; The Criterion Collection; 1963-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“One of cinema’s most complex looks at how democracy is corrupted by a system that doesn’t work.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It won for Best Film in Venice in 1963. Writer-director Francesco Rosi’s (“Salvatore Giuliano”/”The Mattei Affair”/”Lucky Luciano”)expose on municipal corruption is a powerful political drama, one of cinema’s most complex looks at how democracy is corrupted by a system that doesn’t work and of how a city gets built. It’s smartly, with much gusto, co-written by Rosi,Raffaele La Capria, Enzo Provenzale and Enzo Forcella from a leftist point of view, but has enough breath that it reaches over to the middle to even gain support among the masses (one of the few leftist political films that can claim this and find it’s true).

The film follows the greedy real estate developer and arrogant power-hungry right-wing councilman Eduardo Nottola (Rod Steiger), who makes big money in Naples through government collusion with his private construction company. In one revealing mise-en-scene, uniting the film’s oily protagonist with his vision, Nottola’s office is lined with wallpaper that has a map of Naples. Nottola is a shady deal-maker pretending to care about the city’s poor tenement dwellers, whose private company is awarded valued municipal building contracts because the man has the political connections with the ring-wing party in control and knows how to promote himself so that he’s looked upon as the only hope the city will get better housing.

When one of Nottola’s poorly built tenements collapses in Naple’s slum, so do the hopes of the poor slum dweller. Nottola’s held responsible for the building collapse(it’s actually the fault of his incompetent construction engineer son, who has gone into hiding), and is skewered in the press for the shoddy way he builds. There are two deaths, many injuries and a youngster is crippled, which causes a public scandal. This incident becomes an issue in the forthcoming local elections. Nottola’s right-wing supporters can’t get him to step down or accept a shady deal they worked out to get the pressure off them from the angry people and crusading press, who focus their distrust of politicians on the distant Nottola. The ruthless builder, angry with his party for not giving him full support and not appointing him building commissioner, betrays his party and makes a deal with the cunning centrist leader Professor Luigi De Angelis (Salvo Randone)–that for his support he expects the now centrist majority to appoint him as building commissioner. The articulate left-wing leader, councilman De Vita (Carlo Fermariello), descries this unholy alliance and points out how it smacks of a cover-up to subvert the ongoing inquiry into the building collapse and how Nottola wants to now evict the poor tenants (who have no other place to move to) and put up luxury buildings that the poor couldn’t afford and by doing so it would ensure that the real estate czar makes a fortune while his unscrupulous political cronies get kickbacks. De Vita complains that the investigation by the inquiry board is squelched by the city’s bureaucracy, as the various agencies (including the safety agency) conclude it was merely an accident and no one is responsible. We’re left with the powerless, lone voice of reason, De Vita angrily telling off the poor he is fighting for “If you want justice, stop voting for these people.” Dedicated medical doctor Balsamo (Angelo D’Alessandro) got appointed to the inquiry board as a centrist representative with plans to do the morally right thing for the people, but becomes disgusted with the amoral nature of politics when the deal made with Nottola and his party will ensure that business will go on as usual.

There are many great scenes in the black-and-white film that include the building collapse (symbolic that the politicians have sold-out the people), the noisy meeting in the city council chamber hall that pits the three political factions debating against each other based solely along party lines (symbolic of the divisiveness that ensures deals will be made to gain power) and the filming of the secret deals made in the backrooms by the politicians maneuvering for power. The pic realistically gets to the inner workings inside city hall and critiques the political system for being so corrupt and the people for being so indifferent and uneducated that they are easily hood-winked by the smooth talking politicians.

Its mostly nonprofessional cast, including several actual council members from Naples, do a terrific job making things seem authentic. American actor Rod Steiger is well-suited for his role as the corrupt political heavy and the venal czar real estate speculator, while the fiery intense performance by Carlo Fermariello as the leftist provocateur steals the acting honors. There are also very satisfying performances by the untrustworthy wavering pulse-taking smoothy centrist political boss Salvo Randone and by the unprincipled crude right-wing political leader Guido Alberti.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”