Francesco Rosi

film 2 of 3

Mani Sulla Citta

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

One of the very greatest of gangster pictures, partly for the way it subverts and even eschews the gangster picture’s usual iconography. Rackets are one thing, but isn’t this the substance of organized crime? Funds, work to be done, real relationships between the government official that oversees a necessary project, and the businessmen who can get the work done. That, or cronies, closing that door, and sidling on up to the trough.

Director Rosi’s procedural approach makes for a really effective, really exciting way to tell this story. Look at the pre-credit sequence. First there’s property speculation, leading elliptically to that now-suspicious announcement by the mayor. Then the work proceeds, business as usual. That’s the inciting incident behind the inciting incident (the tremendous, appalling building collapse). The narrative strategy is analytic, not cathartic, but by that alternative route the film’s emotional payoffs are real and considerable. Causes and effects, implications and consequences—the challenge is to keep up, the reward is a knowledge of dire reality and real possibility. This is true; we can change!

Look at all those real Italians, gesturing. The council members too; here is a whole different, deeper kind of neo-realism. It’s like the point Jim Pines makes about African-American cinema (in Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, ed., 1998). Crises are dramatic, and socially necessary too. Rosi gives us some of those, and most vividly. But we need to get to typicality too, else we engage in caricature, and distortion.

The left/right battles are tremendous, ideologically what you’d expect, but with nuance too. The De Vita character, based on and played by an actual heroic councilor, is especially impressive. The moral struggle of our centrist hospital administrator, the terrible but probably necessary compromise of the new/centrist mayor, makes the film better, harder, truer. (Paddy Chayevsky must have gotten that Peter Finch/Ned Beatty confrontation from this film. This one’s better.) This isn’t a screed, and it’s not sloganeering. It’s Brecht’s Good Person of Szechuan!  Nothing’s clear, except that there is work left to be done, and you’ve got to keep going. Sounds like the truth, regardless of your place or political preference.