Le Mani sulla Citta (1963) Hands Over the City

March 17th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

HANDS OVER THE CITY (Le Mani sulla citta)

Dir. Francesco Rosi; Cast: Rod Steiger, Salvo Randole, Guido Alberti, Carlo Fermarielli

Italy 1963, 105 min.

In one of the finest political dramas ever made, Francesco Rosi exposes the unscrupulous culture of civic corruption in post-war Naples, still endemic and universal today within the corridors of power.

After a panoramic view of Naples, we see Eduardo Nottola (Rod Steiger), a land speculator and owner of a big building company in Naples, explaining to Maglione, mayor of the city, the benefits of a new development at the outskirts of the city. Nottola holds up his hands and tells Maglione the profit margins, which he will share with him and the Christian Democrats, for whom he sits as a councillor on the city council. The next hands stretched up belong to the councillors of the CD, who are defending Nottola against a few communist councillors, who accuse him of responsibility for the death of two people, after one of the old buildings, which stands next to one of his new projects, collapses because of the pneumatic drills used for the foundations of the adjacent site. The Liberals, under the leadership of Professor De Angelis, join the communist, but it turns out that it was only a manoeuvre for the forthcoming election: the Liberals are the strongest party, but need the CD, so a bargain is struck: Nottola, who has joined the Liberals, will become the new Commissioner responsible for all building works in the city, after De Angelis promises Maglione, who had fallen out with Nottola for personal reasons, a share in the forthcoming profits of the new city development. The film ends with another panoramic overview of the city: it can sleep peacefully under the protecting hands of its leading citizens.

HANDS OVER THE CITY is not a film about Mafiosi, but about people who only have their own interests at heart. The politicians including de Vita, the leader of the communists, are only concerned with winning elections – the rest is talk. All parties are part of the system. And they need a powerful figure like Nottola, to make things happen. He is rightfully not shown as evil, but as part of a pseudo-democratic system, which excludes the majority of citizens. The new buildings Nottola is so proud of, are not for the inhabitants of the slum buildings he is demolishing – they are being ferried out on lorries to just another slum further away from the city centre. And the two victims of the accident are just footnotes, whilst the little boy, who has lost his legs in the accident, is being groomed as a beneficiary of the public health system, which otherwise is as underfunded as the rest of the public services – whilst Maglione is showing off his sumptuous art treasures to a friend.

Rod Steiger dominates the film, not only physically but emotionally. Whilst being critical, Rosi shows him as a tiger among hyenas. He paces the rooms, uses the telephone like a weapon as he barks orders and is not afraid to scarify his own son, who was in charge of the site where the accident occured. The politicians are greedy and self-seeking, but they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Camera work and music have all the elements of a thriller: the politicians are shown as conspirators, who hide in dark corners, afraid of Nottola and their own shadows. The music underlines the noir atmosphere, always threatening and dissonant. AS

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