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This Golden Lion-winning political drama, helmed by ambitious journalistic Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi, makes a performance of a pursuit, a miscarried pursuit, but informative nonetheless for the inside scoop it wagers before us. The investigators are members of the Naples City Council, who are grindingly provoked by the collapse of a building in a congested blue-collar back street. Did the building wreck, with some tragic results, due to hazardous construction at a neighboring site? Most of the council is willing to draw the line of their inquiry at this particular question, having already settled that the answer is no.
Initially, the sole proponent for further examination is convinced that the root cause is one of everyday profiteering, as personified by Rod Steiger's council member and real estate developer named Nottola. His right-wing party commands the government, which governs the city's construction and planning offices, which permit Nottola charge of whatever development he favors. The gluttonous profits come full circle to the right-wing party. With an election coming up, the noble sole proponent is fixed on fracturing this cycle by exposing it, yet in doing so he is exposed to infuriating bureaucracy. In reality, he is played not by a professional actor but a member of the city council and secretary of the chamber of commerce.
Fermariello's good guy appears more emotionally decipherable than Steiger's Nottola, who in spite of being the axial character is cold and unapproachable in most scenes. Nottola disappears for extensive segments of the movie. His son, the engineer at fault for the building disaster, evaporates for the entire film after one small and obscure appearance. The film is quite reminiscent of the much more recent film There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson, and with a very similarly remote main character. As for Nottola's feelings for his son, they never surface at any point. At the moment when Nottola faces the urgency to choose between his son or his business concerns, Rosi denies even a suggestion of his internal life. While Nottola remains silent and ponderous, Rosi's camera ranges his nondescript office and juxtaposes him with the window's view of the darkened city, for almost three full minutes, as the disonant musical score awakes in a sother of brass, shapelessly building like a migraine before it's shattered by a menacing jazz wallop.
Pay close attention to the first few scenes of this eager sociological parable. While this succession economically summarizes the era's Neapolitan chain of graft, there are lush leaps in framing and scope like when we see Nottola's hands in close-up against the outlying background, high-reaching overhead purviews first of an architectural facsimile and then of the real city, abrupt cuts that jar you in and out of runaway and overlapping dialogues, and curt pauses during which you read the faces of an "industriopolitical" (my word) mass. This sequence of jarrings delves into how Rosi gets away with his conversational portrayal, half council-chamber public speaking and the other half clandestine political scheming. While the dialogue by itself would be a courtroom-like chore, Rosi's stylistic visual appeal keeps one enthralled.
So the circle of the film closes, and the camera cranks back through the city council chamber, and then you see the same high-flying aerial shots as at the beginning. And yet, although Rosi appears to be suggesting a sort of sighing and giving up, a point of view not so irrational when one sees how far beyond Naples this perpetuated cycle of underhanded government puppeteering remains several decades later, the stylized realism of this, what I call an everyday disaster movie, leaves you feeling resilient and energized.
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