REVIEW: The Hand of God (LFF 2021)
Sorrentino’s autobiographical film is an ambitious, intimate triumph.
Paolo Sorrentino has been at the epicentre of contemporary European Cinema for over two decades and is responsible for acclaimed films and series including The Great Beauty, Il Divo and The Young and New Pope. He won the Oscar and BAFTA for Best Foreign Film for The Great Beauty. Sorrentino’s latest is the semi-autobiographical The Hand Of God which depicts his childhood in 1980s Naples.
Filippo Scotti stars as Fabietto (who is modelled on Sorrentino) and follows his obsession with Maradona, who signs for Napoli and whose infamous goal against England gives the film its title. The film depicts the wider Schisa family and the Neapolitan community in which they reside.
Maradona’s shadow lingers over the story but in mostly an endearing fashion. This showcases the power of community spirit with Maradona’s signing bringing together supporters and being a frequent topic of discussion at family dinners. We also catch glimpses of his exploits at the 1986 World Cup and for Napoli.
After an initial fun side-story involving Fabietto’s Aunt Patrizia, a don and a small monk, we are introduced to the wider family and spend time learning about the trials and tribulations of their individual lives. While this of course adds context, it does take away something from the story at hand, as it is a fair way into the film that this truly becomes Fabietto’s story. In saying that, the scenes where the family are congregated together are a delight and the scenes involving the matriarchs evoke some of the early works of Pedro Almodovar, especially in the depiction of the female characters.
Surprisingly, the film is full of humour depicting the everyday life of Italian communities and traditionally large families, both poking fun at and being endearing in equal measure. The humour rarely feels forced, seeming completely organic and driven from real-life experiences and circumstances. The humour of the first half perhaps allows the heavier more tragic moments of the second half to hit harder, ensuring this isn’t a depressing affair. Sorrentino’s script deserves high praise for the degree of realism and the cast, equally, deliver exceptional performances across the board.
Particular highlights within the film’s cast are Sorrentino’s long-term collaborator Toni Servillo as Fabietto’s father and Teresa Saponangelo as the fun-minded prankster mother Maria, with whom Fabietto has a close bond. Aunt Patrizia is perhaps underdeveloped, although Luisa Ranieri is still terrific, but the part acts mostly as a sexual awakening of sorts for Fabietto. Much of the film is focused on the innocence of Fabietto’s youth and him coming to terms with the world around him.
As well as being a loving ode to Italian family communities, the film is a love letter to cinema, especially in the second half where Fabietto decides to become a director. The works of Fellini are mentioned constantly and Sorrentino clearly holds the most iconic of Italian directors in the highest regard, with Marchino, the elder brother auditioning to be an extra in one of Fellini’s films. There is also references to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America. In contrast to Cinema Paradiso, which The Hand Of God bears more than a few similarities to, the majority of the odes to cinema are spoken or on-set rather than in a cinema itself.
Another true standout is Daria D’Antonio’s cinematography, capturing the scale and sweeping beauty of the landscapes and in particular, the coastline with a number of scenes taking place at sea. This gives the audience a sense of the ethereal beauty of the Neapolitan coastline and adds a sense of scope to what is otherwise an intimate familial story.
The Hand Of God is a loving ode to the Italy of the 1980s, Italian cinema and is equal parts tragic and hilarious. The cast are consistently excellent and deliver the awkward balance between humour and drama to perfection, especially as the film shifts into a more sombre mood in its second half. Based on its early festival reception, it is perhaps likely that the film will be in awards conversations and certainly seems well-placed to at least feature as Italy’s foreign language entry. The fact this is a Netflix release may well help the film reach a wider audience and attract new fans to Sorrentino’s earlier works.
The Hand of God comes to Netflix on 15 December, 2021