The Hand of God

Peter W Sheehan 3 December 2021

This Italian film tells a personal story about an awarded film director, who reminisces about his hometown of Naples in the 1980s to tell his tale. The film dramatically interweaves, adolescent adventure, sport, love, loss, and tragedy in an intensely personal way.

THE HAND OF GOD. Starring: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, and Luisa Ranieri. Also, Marion Joubert. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (A strong sex scene). 130 min.

This Italian subtitled drama is written, directed and co-produced by Paolo Sorrentino. It is inspired by the experiences of the director in his teenage days, and tells the story of a young boy’s survival in the unsettling times of the 1980s in Naples, Italy. It canvasses the themes of love and loss, and tragic events which determined a young boy’s fate.

The film was awarded the Grand Jury Prize and Best Young Actor award (to Filippo Scotti) at the 78th Venice International Film Festival in 2021. The film is semi-autobiographical in tone, and tells the story of a young man coming of age in Neapolitan Italy.

Fabietto Schisa (Scotti) is a 17-year-old youth, headed for a career in film-making. He lives happily with family, neighbours and friends, and is reasonably contented with his life in Naples. He has no friends, but he is obsessed with the sport of soccer and caught up in the tide of emotions that surrounded the legendary Argentinian soccer player, Diego Maradona, who the film describes as “the best soccer star, who has ever lived”. Fabietto is intoxicated by the thought that Maradona was thinking of joining the Italian team, and moving to his hometown.

The film’s title owes allegiance to the hard-fought soccer game in the World Cup of 1986 in which Maradona fouled the ball, which was not observed by the game’s referees. After the match was over, Maradona quipped that he was helped by “The Hand of God”. The title additionally refers to the twists of fate that determined Fabietto’s own life. His attendance at Maradona’s soccer game prevented him from being with his parents at home, who both died unexpectedly in a freak accident in their house, the film implying he too was touched by “The Hand of God” to escape.

The story of what happened to his loving father, Saverio (Servillo), and his prankster mother, Maria (Saponangelo) is revealed relatively late in the film, which brought tragedy into a young life. The film pivots from happy events to tragic ones, and the change is dramatic. The film also freely indulges in male preoccupation with female sexuality, which shows Fabrietto losing his virginity as a willing victim of female rape by a troubled, unhappy member of his volatile group.

The film authentically displays the culture that Sorrentino experienced as a teenager. His direction at times teeters on the brink of self-indulgence, but there are significant moments of directorial brilliance along the way. Fabietto keeps a watchful gaze on everyone and everything, and the camera lingers searchingly on a young man’s efforts to learn from the odd behaviour of the people who surrounded him, including his Aunt Patrizia (Ranieri), who flirted seductively with him as well as others, and who was a victim of violent, physical abuse by her husband. Fabietto’s extended family is an embattled group of people, who also care about him.

This is an intensely personal film made by a much-awarded director. It vacillates from love and happiness to sadness and loss, and shows how fate shaped a young’s boy’s life. The final scenes set out – dramatically and conceptually – the director’s personal philosophy of film-making, and the interactions that occurred to point the way for him to become a famous film-maker – one with a definite Federico Fellini touch.

This is strictly an art-house film made by a very good director. It is authentically Italian in setting, scripting, acting and direction, and expresses what factually shaped Sorrentino’s unusual style of direction, which embraces not only the joy of the creative successes Sorrentino experienced, but also the pain of his failures, deeply felt.

Released in cinemas on Festivals, 2 December 2021
Netflix – 15 December 2021