‘The Hand of God’ movie review: A beautiful meditation on the agony and ecstasy of being young

The different religions and their patron saints — football, film and Catholicism — jostle for space in Paolo Sorrentino’s intensely personal drama

Paolo Sorrentino’s achingly beautiful The Hand of God ends with a Neapolitan song by Pino Daniele, ‘Napule è’. The lyrics, “Naples is a thousand colours/ Naples is a thousand fears…” captures the essence of the film, which shows a gorgeous Naples, riven with laughter and tears. From the first scene where a distraught woman meets the little monk of traditional Neapolitan fairy tales, The Monaciello, in a cavernous room with a chandelier leaning on the floor, and the azure waters of the bay to the shot of a man suspended by ropes in a gallery and Mount Vesuvius quietly belching smoke in the background, Naples catches and captures the eye with its unpredictable grandeur and decay.

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An intensely personal film, the Academy-Award-winning Sorrentino was inspired to make the film after Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, in which the filmmaker explored his childhood in Mexico.

At the Venice Film Festival, where The Hand of God had its premiere, Sorrentino explained in a statement how he eschewed the traps of a “conventional autobiography… through a simple, sparse, and essential staging”. He spoke of letting cinematography taking a step back “to let the years speak”. We see the Eighties in the ever-present Walkman, the rack of cassette tapes, the top-loading VCR, the cars and clothes among many other such markers.

The Hand of God

  • Director: Paolo Sorrentino
  • Cast: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betti Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo Decaro, Sofya Gershevich, Roberto Oliveri, Lino Musella, Cristiana Dell’Anna, Monica Nappo
  • Language: Italian
  • Storyline: A boy comes of age amidst the thrill of football legend Diego Maradona playing for Naples, and personal tragedy
  • Run time: 130 minutes

While a lawyer for Maradona was stated to be exploring legal action for the title, and Netflix responded by saying it is not a sports film, Sorrentino says in the director’s statement, “And hovering above everything, so close and yet so far, is Maradona, that ghostly idol, five foot five, who seemed to sustain the lives of everyone in Naples, or at least mine.”

In the mid-Eighties, when all of Naples is speculating about whether Maradona will play for Napoli, 17-year-old Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) stays with his parents, Saverio (Toni Servillo) and Maria (Teresa Saponangelo), listening to music, watching football and planning to study philosophy. He accompanies his brother, Marchino, (Marlon Joubert), to film auditions. After Federico Fellini rejects him, Marchino gives up his starry dreams, while Fabietto becomes interested in filmmaking.

An important match, a horrific tragedy and an encounter with the filmmaker, Antonio Capuano (Ciro Capano), make lasting impressions on Fabietto’s life. Like any coming-of-age story, Fabietto’s life is peopled with different kinds of teachers. His emotionally vulnerable aunt, Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) tells him it is alright to follow his dreams, “If it is crazy, you have come to the right person.” A cigarette smuggler tells him of the love for the sea and the sound of an offshore boat; it is “toof toof”. A baroness (Betti Pedrazzi) teaches him how to be with a woman. Capuano gives sound filmmaking advice, including “with hope you make comforting films”. His sister, who rarely leaves bathroom, also gives advice from behind the door.

The different religions and their patron saints — football, film and Catholicism — jostle for space in the film. The Hand of God, which has been shortlisted for the Best International Feature Film at Oscars, is a beautiful meditation on the agony and ecstasy of being young.

The Hand of God is currently streaming on Netflix


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