Sunday, July 5, 2009

July's Film: Hands Over the City

For this month's film, I wanted to select one I had not seen before but from a director whose work fascinates me. Hands Over the City (1963) is Francesco Rosi's follow-up feature to his debut Salvatore Giuliano, about the Sicilian independence movement. Hands Over the City keeps the focus on the politics of Southern Italy; in this case the narrative revolves around real-estate speculation in Naples and the problem of political corruption.

To call it a narrative, though needs qualification. For starters, Rosi mixes fiction and documentary, less so here than in Salvatore Giuliano, but the project of the film seems at times closer to what we are used to documentary films doing than fiction films. There are at least two ongoing complaints about Hollywood's politics: 1) it reduces all political problems to personal problems; and 2) it uses politics as McGuffin, a narrative hook that is quickly discarded. Hands Over the City is the polar opposite. Characters are important only to the extent they represent political positions or power. Political deliberation is shown unfolding without the normal emotional catharsis we might expect. It's not a difficult film like Straub/Huillet or even a latter Godard film, but it's a different kind of difficult: the detailed and detached approach can overwhelm a novice or casual viewer. Conversely, multiple viewings can be rewarding.

Some questions I have for Film Clubbers:

Hands Over the City is pretty clearly a political film, but I'm wondering how? With whom do with sympathize and how? My gut feeling is that we sympathize differently than in other political films, but I'm still not sure how this works.

What of Rosi's style? It's often considered as part of a realist vein in 60s Italian cinema. What does it share with other art films from the period? What's distinctive?

The Oxford Guide to World Cinema characterizes Rosi's work as "rationalist." Is that a fair assessment, and if so, how does this play out? What is the relationship between Rosi's work and other intellectual, politicized cinema?

These are hardly exhaustive questions, but they speak to my interests in selecting the film. I'm looking forward to see what discoveries others have in the film.


Peter Rinaldi said...

Great choice. I am very excited about this one. I am approaching it fresh. Should be very interesting.

GHJ - said...

This will be my first Rosi! Can't wait.

weepingsam said...

I just got it and watched it - definitely a great choice.. try to slip some comments in, just under the wire, I guess...