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VENICE 2021 Competition

Review: The Hand of God

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- VENICE 2021: “Amarcording” the Naples of his youth, Paolo Sorrentino gets to eat his Fellini cake and have his own, too

Review: The Hand of God
Filippo Scotti in The Hand of God

The Hand of God [+see also:
trailer
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
]
, presented in all its resplendent national glory in the competition of the 78th Venice International Film Festival, sees director Paolo Sorrentino return from the international ventures of Youth [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
]
and The Young Pope/The New Pope [+see also:
series review
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
series profile
]
series and the political satire of Loro [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
to what may arguably be his most well-loved turf – the slightly nostalgic, slightly Fellini-esque moods of his groundbreaking hit The Great Beauty [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
]
. Or forget the “slightly” bit, for this one’s marinated in it, like a succulent babà cake from the very Naples that gets a most loving, partly autobiographical homage here.

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series serie

Set in the 1980s and named after that outrageous Diego Maradona remark in regard of his equally outrageous 1-0 goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, the story focuses on the cheerful and colourful Schisa family. There’s cheeky daddy Saverio (Toni Servillo, in fine form) and mischievous mummy Maria (Teresa Saponangelo, thoroughly delightful) and their threefold offspring, with late teen Fabietto (Filippo Scotti, pensively portraying the part of young Sorrentino himself) at the forefront. There’s also a rich plethora of extended family, friends and neighbours, including a beautiful, unhappy aunt, an eccentric baroness upstairs, and an honourable but tedious fellow with an electrolarynx, to name a few. The abundant sceneries of the must-see-before-you-die wonders of the city are exquisitely handpicked, and the colours radiate a dreamy warmth, be they from a fresh chunk of mozzarella di bufala, three expertly juggled oranges or a sunbathing naked bellissima (is nostalgic Italiana the last bastion of the unabashed male gaze?). Ever-present in the air is the aforementioned Maradona, who may or may not be transferred to SSC Napoli around this time. There’s even Fellini, who would regularly visit Naples to look for, and find, some very good faces here. More than happily, Sorrentino does not shy away from putting his oft-cited idol in the picture. Also worthy of comparison is Vittorio De Sica’s beautiful episodic film The Gold of Naples, surely part of the DNA here.

Gradually, The Hand of God ventures down its own, darker paths, and as tragedy strikes the Schisa family, we’re reminded, if not before that, that perhaps we’ve been watching a true Sorrentino film all along. Another real-life director, Antonio Capuano, is seen shooting a heels-over-head scene (literally) in one of the illustrious Naples gallerias. Fabio strikes up a conversation with him. Some 15 years later, Capuano’s film The Dust of Naples carries a Paolo Sorrentino script credit. The rest is modern Italian film history, still in the making. While the phrase “Sorrentino-esque” may not yet be in wide usage, it would not be entirely undeserved one day. At least the baroness upstairs would clemently agree.

The Hand of God was produced by Italy’s The Apartment Pictures and is being released by Netflix.

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