Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, Hand of God is his most personal. However, he manages to avoid the pitfalls of the passion project to provide a very personal meditation on identity, grief and family which is both funny and poignant.
Hand of God is set in the 1980s when Fabio, is trying to find his place both in his family, where he’s still treated as the baby and the wider world is saved from certain death in a freak accident by Diego Maradona.
It sounds like such a surreal premise but actually, this film is really grounded and that’s because Sorrentino is always in control of his material. The film features so many different characters but somehow all the pieces fit together like a tiled mosaic floor. The audience is first introduced to Fabio’s aunt who visits the little monk in a ramshackle palace. We soon discover she has mental problems. However, through her, it is clear he learns to not be so judgmental. Then we are introduced to his parents and whilst this is Sorrentino’s life he doesn’t sugarcoat the state of their marriage or what he witnessed.
Their sudden and shocking death in a freak accident feels even more visceral because of the way he paces the scenes. I’ve often found Sorrentino films felt like a piece of music, sometimes the notes are long and other times very short and sharp. This is how Hand of God feels, the death of his parents and other moments of pain comes quickly and sharply. The scenes full of laughter and joy meander across the scene and the best scenes in this film are those of the family picnic and when Fabio is with his parents. His mother’s pranks although naughty are joyous and so funny.
The set pieces especially the lingering shot of the bay of Naples is a wonder on screen. The direction as expected is great and even though the film at times feels a little jerky, it works overall because the audience is never allowed to dwell too long in one place. The performances are incredible and even though Filippo Scotti as Fabio deserves much of the praise. I was mesmerised by three of the other actors; Teresa Saponangelo who plays the mother, Luisa Ranieri as Patrizia, his mad aunt and Betty Pedrazzi who plays the Baroness.
Hand of God is a great film of the moment. So many of us are on the same nostalgia train as Sorrentino revisiting the past to make sense of how we’ve arrived at our current destination. He’s taken something very personal, the loss of his parents and his teenage years in Naples and managed to make that part of a wider examination of self discovery which is universal. I found this sublime and mercifully not melodramatic!
THE HAND OF GOD is in select cinemas now and on Netflix from December 15.
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