Criterion Sunday 355: Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City, 1963)

In a way I’m surprised there haven’t been more films about the decisions that lie behind the construction of the cities most of us (in this country, on this continent, on the planet) live in. After all, the decisions that shape our built environment can be some of the most decisive around our quality of life, what jobs we do, where our aspirations lie, and most of these decisions are ultimately political ones. It doesn’t take a country with as much of a history of political volubility and public corruption as Italy for it to be applicable to the rest of the world, because the decisions about new housing projects are often the most nefarious of deals wherever you live, and so the subject matter of this film has barely aged in the 57 years since it was made.

Of course, watching Hands Over the City you get a little sense of why there aren’t more films like this, because all the major players in this drama look sort of the same — all well-groomed patrician men of a certain age, who all look the same in black-and-white aside perhaps from the way they wear their hear or the glasses they have on their face (and even then, there’s not a great variety). Perhaps the situation may be different now, but not much different really. The men who make these decisions, who hold the power and the money, and decide how we will live are often these men, and this film revolves around one developer (Rod Steiger), also a city councilman, who has access to the levers of government that means decisions on his projects are fast-tracked (“approved in three days!” rages one left-wing council member, played by Carlo Fermariello, explaining that most decisions of this nature come in a timeframe of six months to two years). When his project leads to the collapse of a building in a slum area, killing multiple people, it leads to some intense questioning — but because they’re poor people, it all feels like fairly superficial, gestural politics.

There’s a docudrama element to this, then, because even if the film is fictional, a lot of the scenarios are drawn very much from real life — if you’re willing to look for it, there’s a lot of drama in city planning (as films like Chinatown were only too aware). And so, though it takes a little while to pick out the players from this sea of fancy suits, Rosi’s film about a corrupt real estate developer, retains its power and potency.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Francesco Rosi; Writers Rosi, Raffaelle La Capria and Enzo Forcella; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Rod Steiger, Carlo Fermariello, Salvo Randone; Length 100 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 20 September 2020.

Criterion Sunday 278: L’eclisse (1962)

Antonioni, I feel, made a lot of films about boredom, or about people being bored, and it’s easy to slip into imagining they are boring films (to some, they are of course), but I love the moods he creates. Monica Vitti and Alain Delon slip into and around the frame in an almost endlessly reconfigurable number of ways, stopping only to look disconsolately off screen (and that’s how Vitti ends her screen performance in this film, last of a loosely-themed trilogy by Antonioni). She doesn’t seem to want love, or finds it boring perhaps, and then falls into the orbit of Delon’s stockbroker, whom she is equally unpassionate towards until near the end. Like the character halfway through L’avventura (1960), here all the film’s characters seem to disappear just before the end, as the world they’ve created continues, silent and without passion, in the places they have lived their lives and plan to keep living them, the water ebbing away from a rusted barrel, while the architecture blankly comments on the streets below. It’s a rondo of sorts between these two characters, and a movement through dead space, beautiful but always ultimately suffused with a boredom that emanates not just from the characters but from those around them, as if it’s the state of the universe.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Michelangelo Antonioni; Writers Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Elio Bartolini and Ottiero Ottieri; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Francisco Rabal; Length 126 minutes.

Seen at National Library, Wellington, Wednesday 16 October 2002 (and most recently on Blu-ray at home, London, Saturday 23 November 2019).

Criterion Sunday 228: Salvatore Giuliano (1962)

There’s a lot of gorgeous style to this film, all high-contrast black-and-white starkness, an almost documentary-like sense of its Sicilian landscapes, not to mention the evocative faces of its protagonists. It’s a period story made in the 60s about a post-war gangster and rebel laid low by the forces of the law and the mafia, but it feels like it’s made contemporaneously, and the director has a solid control of his actors. I found the narrative difficult to get hold of, as it jumps back and forth in time fairly liberally, while the titular figure is rarely actually seen except when dead. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but perhaps it just needs the right frame of mind and the right screening to fall into place.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Francesco Rosi; Writers Rosi, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Enzo Provenzale and Franco Solinas; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Salvo Randone, Frank Wolff; Length 123 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 16 September 2018.

Criterion Sunday 149: Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965)

An attractive film to look at admittedly, made with an all-too-self-consciously flamboyant camera in some sequences, this still manages to leave me cold. It may be Fellini’s masterpiece, though, if we consider him a stylist of characters in hectic motion, a carnival of oddity, feeling, spirits, nostalgia and feminine charms. The plot can’t really be summed up easily — it’s about Giulietta Masina’s eponymous title character and her feelings, to a certain extent about her husband’s fidelity, though even that seems slightly beside the point — and instead we get 135 or so minutes of great sets, costumes, hair, camerawork, and an almost babble of manic expressionist madness.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Federico Fellini; Writers Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rondi; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Giulietta Masina; Length 137 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Wednesday 12 April 2017.

Criterion Sunday 140: 8½ (aka Otto e mezzo, 1963)

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Fellini is aiming for here — portrait of the artist as a narcissist with mother issues, one of his abiding themes — it’s just that there’s so much whirl and spectacle that I find it difficult to keep up with why I should care about Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido and his many women (and memories of women, and fantasies of women). I’ve apparently seen this film before but I don’t remember it at all, not that I’m holding up this response as any kind of proof of anything. It’s undoubtedly a well-made film which does all those reflexive filmic things (he plays a film director) that critics love when compiling their all-time lists, and the cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo is fantastic. I just struggle to find what’s in it that I can connect with. To each their own.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Federico Fellini; Writers Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and Brunello Rondi; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo; Length 138 minutes.

Seen at Rialto, Wellington, Tuesday 31 October 2000 (and most recently on DVD at a friend’s home, London, Sunday 15 January 2017).

Criterion Sunday 113: I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958)

Apologies for this remarkably brief review; I watched it in a state of half-sleep, though I found it likeable, I don’t really have much to contribute…


A jolly Italian farce modelled on Rififi and the like, in which a bunch of fairly incompetent criminals try to take on a job they’re not really equipped to do. There are some good comic turns, and it moves along at a clip.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Mario Monicelli; Writers Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Suso Cecchi D’Amore and Monicelli; Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo; Starring Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni; Length 111 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 14 August 2016.