Review: The Hand of God – È stata la mano di Dio (2021)


The Hand of God – È stata la mano di Dio (2021)

Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino | 135 minutes | drama | Actors: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betty Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo Decaro, Lino Musella, Sofya Gershevich, Birte Berg, Alessandro Gasines, Cherish Lubomir Misak, Roberto Oliveri, Alfonso Perugini, Dora Romano

In the quarterfinals of the 1986 FIFA World Cup, Argentina’s Diego Maradona scored the 1-0 against England with his hand. Everyone in front of the television saw it and if you hadn’t seen it, sports programs repeated the offending moment a dozen times. Also the main character of the movie ‘The Hand of God’, Fabietto Schisa (Filippo Scotti), sat in front of the television. After the game, Maradona told the press that he scored the goal “a little bit with his head, and a little bit with the hand of God”. Before signing with SSC Napoli, the biggest football club in Fabietto’s birthplace, Mediterranean Naples, in 1984, Maradona had spotted the soccer star in a sports car at a traffic light. The footballer winked at Fabietto. His family didn’t believe a word of it, because which car was it then?

Basically, ‘The Hand of God’ is a coming-of-age story by the nerdy Fabietto. He usually walks around with a Walkman and observes more than he participates in the turbulent teenage life. Moreover, Fabietto prefers to fantasize about his lascivious aunt by marriage than about peers. He also wants to be as famous as the Italian grandmaster Federico Fellini. And although Fabietto has not seen many films yet, the VHS tape of ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (Sergio Leone, 1984) is gathering dust in the Schisa house, he firmly believes in his calling as a filmmaker.

Without a doubt ‘The Hand of God’ is also about Fabietto’s Schisa family, in particular the nuclear family: his jovial father Savario (Toni Servillo); mainstay mother Mary (Teresa Saponangelo); whistling brother Marchino (Nicolas Joubert); and his sister in the bathroom. Together they form a hot bath. In addition, the film serves the Neapolitan culture like a greasy sauce, from pampering moms to swearing grannies, from eating an immeasurable amount of pasta to all kinds of devious ‘sideways’ to manage the monthly costs.

Director Paulo Sorrentino, often mentioned in the same breath as predecessor Fellini, is also from Naples and the film does little to hide the fact that Sorrentino himself was the model for the main character. The director also wrote the screenplay. ‘The Hand of God’ is actually Sorrentino’s ‘I, Vitelloni’ (Federico Fellini, 1953), a look back at his younger ‘I’. Sorrentino made this film about his childhood when he was fifty and Fellini filmed ‘I, Vitelloni’ (Dutch title – ‘De Nietsnutten’) when he was in his early thirties. That makes a remarkable difference. Sorrentino often covers Fabietto and his family’s problems with the cloak of love in ‘The Hand of God’, where Fellini is quite inexorable about his childhood. Now one person is not the other and his memories are often averse to truth. Nevertheless, it is striking that Sorrentino does not so much deal with his origins, but rather embraces it lovingly and with melancholy.

For ‘The Hand of God’ Sorrentino uses considerably less absurd and decadent scenes than in previous work, such as in ‘La Grande Belleza’ (2013) or ‘Loro’ (2018). The film about his childhood is more direct in what it means, less mysterious and sacred than earlier films. The film also shows fewer cinematographic highlights. That makes this semi-autobiographical story somewhat ordinary, even occasionally sluggish. Nevertheless, close to the boundless sense of youth and the warmth of family, including its suffocating quality, the film is a heartwarming ode to both beautiful and dirty Naples. Slightly disappointing is that ‘The Hand of God’ therefore drags itself somewhat towards the end after an energetic first half.