A still image can’t capture the precise quality of this shot, where the men are all clapping, big hands fluttering together, so you have the effect of a miniature city being hovered over by eschelons of lardy butterflies.
Francesco Rosi has been around all my life, but I only just got around to him. I saw SALVATORE GIULIANI, crisply restored, in Bologna, and then I ran my Masters of Cinema Blur-ray of HANDS ACROSS THE CITY. Both are sort of procedural stories, one a fact-based investigation into the life of a bandit/revolutionary, the other an exploration of corruption in the property development business in Naples. It’s natural that the blurb for HANDS should say it’s as exciting as a thriller, but it isn’t, exactly. Rosi doesn’t use leading characters, and his stories don’t hinge on imminent jeopardy — the real risk is the risk that political corruption will devour the democratic system from within, and the films are not so much dramas about the struggle to prevent this, as forensic examinations of the body politic and the various unpleasant processes running rampant within it.
But in place of the kind of drive and tension a thriller can muster, Rosi uses intense, jampacked compositions — I like the shots that literalise the title in an arguably hamfisted but vigorous fashion — and fills the screen with bellowing whales in business suits. Rod Steiger plays the baddie, in a glass eyrie with a street map on one wall, a marble floor littered with flunkies and newspapers, and the diminutive city laid out outside the window looking like it’s an illustration of Steiger’s map rather than the other way around.
The casting of Rod Steiger is welcome, even though he needs to be dubbed — everyone else is dubbed too, it’s an Italian film. An actor whose head looks like a baby’s fist made from wet clay, Steiger again brings the title into play whenever he appears. The film’s left-wing politician becomes a bit of a bore through always being right — plaster saint versus clay baby-fist — but as the story concludes, there really IS a kind of thriller quality to the resounding perorations. There ought to be films made like this now, about today’s issues (which are not so different) — intense visuals, passionate arguments, doughy men yelling at each other. The staples of entertainment! (The trouble with most political dramas like House of Cards is there’s politicking but no actual politics. It’s just Game of Thrones with expensive suits.)