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Hands Over the City: The Criterion Collection

Director Francesco Rosi began his career in cinema as an assistant director for Luchino Visconti, with his first credit on the maestro's La Terra Trema. In interviews Rosi admits he was deeply influenced by the production and Visconti's realist approach. Such may be why he bears a stronger imprint of the Neorealist movement than contemporaries like Pier Paolo Passolini or Bernardo Bertolucci, and also why his star has languished in comparison. But Rosi was considered an important director in his day, with his breakthrough effort Salvatore Giuliano (1962) an international sensation that could very well be the first docudrama. This genre suited the director and his follow up, 1963's Le Mani sulla citta ("Hands Over the City"), casts its net over the political corruption that goes into gentrification. Rod Steiger was imported to star (he spoke his lines in English while the rest of cast spoke in Italian) as Edoardo Notolla, a real estate developer and city councilman who tells his party that if they allow him to build on land initially set aside for farming, the land value will raise exponentially and stuff his fellow party members pockets. They agree to his plan, but the new construction — and the relentless pounding of the construction equipment — causes an older tenement to collapse, leaving two dead and severely injuring a young boy. The local council is pressed for an inquiry to find who is at fault, but all wish to pass the buck and suggest that no one was to blame. The only person interested in finding out the truth is a Communist councilman named De Vita (Carlo Fermariello), who senses the corruption around him but finds that few care, and even fewer will help him get to the bottom of it all. Based on situations in Rosi's hometown of Naples, Hands Over the City manages to still pack a punch, probably because corrupt governments never seem to go out of fashion. Unfortunately, the film delights more for its technical bravado than its plotting, which ends on the sort of stymied note one would expect of such a fictional exposé. But from a technical standpoint, the picture is breathtaking: Rosi suggests in the supplements that he loves using real locations to enhance the reality of the situations, and that's played against his adroit handling of the camera and the operatic music by Piero Piccioni. The Criterion Collection presents the film on DVD in a two-disc set with the feature on the first disc in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with the original monaural Italian audio on a DD 1.0 track (with optional English subtitles). The transfer of the film is outstanding and little age or wear is noticeable. Disc Two begins with an interview of director Francesco Rosi (14 min.), followed by comments from Italian film critic Tullio Kezich (5 min.), while in "Rosi, La Capria, Ciment" critic Michel Ciment talks to Rosi and writer Raffaele La Capria about the film (16 min.), and then Tout Va Bien's co-director Jean-Pierre Gorin offers his thoughts (11 min.). Finally, the set includes Neapolitan Diary (1992), Rosi's semi-sequel that explores Naples in the then-current climate. Dual-DVD keep-case.

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