Written by: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri
Heavy affections for others sexually and a love of sports can accurately depict the teenage experience for many boys as they try to find their identity enveloped in the things surrounding them. Something The Hand of God highlights in this moving portrait from the past of the very filmmaker putting together the feature. Family, sports, sex, and everything you would think falls in line with a Neopolitan experience.
Living with his family in the 1980s, Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) longs for something in his future but cannot escape the reality of his favorite player, Diego Maradona signing with his hometown team, Napoli. As he awaits what could be a momentous day in his life, he does not adequately prepare for a tragedy that’s on its way.
Lacking precision in a storytelling sense, The Hand of God very much feels like a piece of art stitched together by memory in order to tell a larger story of the coming of age process in Naples. Filled with authentic characters bringing a sense of genuine life to the story, this feature manifests a level of lived experience into its throws that makes for something so gratifying to watch. Admittedly, I have found myself to be quite the fan of directors crafting autobiographical work all throughout history. Whether it be Fellini’s 8 ½, Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, and many others, there’s a distinct magic to filmmakers reckoning with their past for the good, the bad, and the ugly. This film may not reach the standard set by others previously mentioned but it still harnesses a level of love flowing all throughout the narrative.
Displaying Fabietto as an introverted youngster waiting for life to take him to something exciting, this feature matches this fervor with a softer touch. The airs of nostalgia certainly play a role in the way it deepens the emotions felt while also being a bit protective of those sacred moments. Like when Fabietto learns officially of Maradona’s signing with Napoli, the energy beaming from this excitement receives a level of nurturing that shows just how precious this moment remains for Sorrentino so many years later. Then there’s also the painful moments and the formative impact they provided so many years later.
Through its acting and production design, this feature takes us back to 1980s Naples in the best of ways as it captures the fears of this era, especially in the realm of what occupied everyone’s minds. It shows the interests of a teenager like Fabietto as he progresses through his development and how it relates to everyone else in his life. As much as this becomes about Fabietto, perhaps the real key to the success of this feature comes from the collection of family members around him providing the comedy, the heartbreak, and the mischief surrounding Fabietto’s experience.
Family certainly means plenty to Italians and this feature leans heavily into this, especially with all of the weird emotions that come with it. Whether it be the way Fabietto looks at Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) or the way he admires his father, they all serve as the inspiration forming the mind and attitude of a young Fabietto. Every small moment, look, and laugh make a discernible impact as it helps create an overall lovely atmosphere for this narrative to weave through in such profound and beautiful ways. The authenticity of it all certainly plays a part as Sorrentino reckons with how it all impacted him as a youth, especially in hindsight.
Given the task to portray a young fictional version of Sorrentino, Filippo Scotti steps up to the plate and delivers a tremendous performance. Capturing the inquisitive nature of this character along with the introverted quiet nature, he helps transport us to 1980s Naples. He maintains a distinct aura around him as he goes from scene to scene experiencing new things with all of the different family members. At times he stands out as the straight man just reacting to all of the wacky things occurring in his life. A strong breakout performance from him and I hope to see more come from him as he builds his filmography.
Deeply emotional in multiple ways, The Hand of God comes with a level of love and nostalgia for one’s past that allows for some deep introspection. It does not hide away from the fears and desires of a young Fabietto as he goes about life trying to find something to latch onto. Will it be the coming of Maradona or something else? This film goes into depth about these feelings and ultimately is what makes it something worth seeking out.