Hands over the City – Le Mani Sulla Città (Francesco Rosi – 1963)

The characters and events shown are imaginary
The social and environmental
context is real

Fracesco Rosi‘s outrageously bold social realism film ends with the above condemning statement. The film offers a unique over the shoulder view into the world of political deal making and corruption in Naples of the early 60’s. Rod Steiger effectively plays the ruthless, power-hungry real-estate speculator that successfully negotiates his way, disregarding needs of the people – in a scandal that has devastated Naples’s civilian landscape.

The film won the 1963 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion and vividly separates the bad guys from the good guys. However, beyond the obvious injustices, it offers a solid reality check. You start looking around you and gradually the picture becomes clearer. We’re all surrounded by outcomes good or bad that are nothing but a direct result of long influence chains of conflicting elements that somehow along the way aligned their interests and negotiated a deal or outcome. It could be your local shopping mall, interest rates, even this computer screen you’re staring at right now. It’s an outcome comprised of a long influence chain: chip suppliers, LCD manufacturer, computer maker, retailers and finally you the consumer – all operating with varying degrees of interests – to negotiate the best deal.

It could have been great if our world had unlimited resources and you could pretty much do anything you like with no consequences on others. Put simply, no losers only winners. Maybe someday when we can completely digitize our physical existence and create a virtual world where you can have endless digital copies of vital resources. Forget Web 2.0, Web millennium anyone? But then again you might say this could be a lonely and somewhat retarded world with no challenges where innovation is stifled.

Nice vision…until then we not only have to play with what we have, but also find ways to do it optimally. Enter Social Economics. The scientific study of the choices made by individuals and societies in regard to the alternative uses of scarce resources, which are employed to satisfy wants. Rosi’s pessimistic view shows how real estate choices in his beloved Naples are ransacked by political and business influence chains, which work only to satisfy their greedy wants. And Piero Piccioni’s erratic music does a superb job to support this premise.

To some extent Rosi’s message is still pertinent today. That said, these days wer’e all part of interconnected social and professional networks with new means of making a bottom-up impact. What influence chains are you playing with and for what outcomes?

By Shlomi Ron

Visual marketing guy with a penchant for fine Italian cinema.

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