A Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet print (101 min) with e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Francesco Rosi in memoriam), 2 Dec 2016
IMDb synopsis: "Prior to a city council election, the collapse of a building leaves a land developer and his political backers defending themselves against a scandal."
Revisited Francesco Rosi's tough political movie which I had not seen since its first Finnish telecast 44 years ago.
Rosi returns to his hometown Naples where he had also directed his solo debut feature film, the powerful camorra drama La sfida / The Challenge which focuses on the vegetable market.
The spirit of neorealism is still powerful in Le mani sulla città in which there is a passion for documentary realism.
It is also a work of epic cinema in the Brechtian sense. There is no identification figure, no identification structure. Le mani sulla città is a drama of politics; we are invited to observe the political theatre. Huge deals are being made, financial ones and political ones, but there is also an election, and voters must be convinced which is why it is necessary to keep up facades.
Le mani sulla città is a drama of the period of massive reconstruction after the war, the industrial miracle. Rod Steiger plays Nottola the construction tycoon. The Germans have a word for him: ein Baulöwe (a construction lion; the wit of the expression is lost in translation); the Finnish word is grynderi (a speculative builder). Nottola is voracious, unstoppable, moving at overspeed, ignoring the city plan.
The film starts with a huge crash of a block of flats. On Nottola's construction site a giant jackhammer has been busy at work, and a neighbouring house has not been properly protected. There are casualties. Nottola's son, the superintendent of the construction site, disappears.
A powerful drama is launched. The establishing shot is from a helicopter juxtaposing shantytowns with high rise districts. We witness documentary scenes at the construction site and violent debates at the City Hall. We enter Nottola's premises on top of the city with vast scenes all over Naples. We see mothers pacified with wads of bank notes ("see how democracy works"). We observe a huge archival room (qf. Ladri di biciclette) where blueprints and permissions are kept. We arrive at a children's ward at the hospital where victims are taken care of. There are huge demonstrations, the media is alerted, the opposition is furious. Further spaces of significance include a restaurant where Nottola is a regular, and a gambling hall where the biggest political boss is a regular. And, importantly, the church where Nottola makes a sign of the cross; the political boss has a private chapel with an invaluable painting by a Renaissance master.
The canny powers-that-be are quick to make deals that ensure that nothing changes. But appearances must be kept. There are honest politicians in all parties. One of them would like to refuse to participate if Nottola is allowed to continue. "Half of our civil servants should be put to jail". "A tutti un occhio sul golfo” is Nottola's election slogan.
A quick succession of striking deals ensures that everything continues as before. The camera tracks back as corruption goes on consecrated by the Church. City property is sold at bargain prices to irresponsible speculators. There is a sound of a whistle, and the magnificent jack hammer strikes again.
The cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo is stark, conducted in available light, or a good semblance of it. There is a rich array of angles, and a an exciting montage concept without an identification approach. The agony and the suffering are made clear but in a distanced way. The lighting is often hard, and there are no warm, soft, or intimate moments.
Women are almost non-existent. Rosi's films are either about the power games of men or Spanish stories with sensuality and women.
Piero Piccioni's music theme is harsh, vigorous, and full of defiance.
The print is brilliant. It looks like it could have been struck from the negative and has hardly ever been screened before.
Francesco Rosi (s. 1922) opiskeli aluksi lakia kotikaupungissaan Napolissa, jonka miljöö on hänelle rakas. Roomaan siirryttyään hän työskenteli ensin teatterissa ja toimi sen jälkeen kymmenisen vuotta elokuvan palveluksessa skenaristina ja apulaisohjaajana mm. Viscontilla, Antonionilla, Emmerillä ja Monicellilla. Vasta vuonna 1957 hän ryhtyi valmistelemaan ensimmäistä täysin omaa elokuvaansa.
Rosin tapa tehdä elokuvaa on dokumentaarinen; tämä tekotapa on nähtävissä kaikissa hänen keskeisissä filmeissään, joihin lukeutuvat Salvatore Giuliani, Kaupungin valtias ja Verta hiekassa.
Rosi on poliittisen ja yhteiskunnallisen elokuvan edustaja parhaimmillaan. Kaupungin valtias sijoittuu napolilaiseen asunto- ja asuntokeinottelumiljööseen jossa poliittiset vastavoimat, oikeisto ja vasemmisto, taistelevat. Päähenkilönä on oikeistoon kuuluva rikas grynderi Eduardo Nottola (Rod Steiger) ja keskuksena hänen häikäilemätön toimintansa. Nottola on älykäs liikemies, kapitalisti, joka ei kaihda voimakeinojakaan työnsä loppuunviemisessä. Hänen asuntokeinottelunsa ja poliittisten juonittelujen kuvioista muodostuu Rosin elokuvan keskeinen tematiikka.