TELLING STORIES IS complicated. Telling personal stories that you have lived through even more so. And telling them perfectly, is extremely rare. Paolo Sorrentino’s film The Hand of God, is one of these unique feats of collaborative creative skills that yield a product that will lift your mood and change your direction, for good.
It is here where you meet Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), a boy in transition into adulthood, and his family, warts and all. On one level, this is a coming-of-age flick, but it documents that transition with a feisty eye and a directorial hand that will make you laugh out loud and cry real tears, almost simultaneously. It’s about the taboo against rudeness in polite conversation and laughing at things because they’re funny, even if they are deemed inappropriate. It is about geriatric sex instruction, of the calibre you might know from Hal Ashby’s 1971 film Harold and Maude as it is about shock so immense and numbing that it turns everything upside down forever.
Above all, it is about the importance of sibling love, Argentine football player Diego Maradona and the Italian love of soccer, with a little madness and some vigorous nods to the work and thinking of Federico Fellini, in its folds and sketches. Sorrentino’s ability to tell a grand narrative with the aid of smaller stories, ones that lend the kind of unbridled laughter or tears that make it real, is possibly the best you might see in your lifetime. The material is crisp and candid; the casting and performances impeccable. This film, replete with some hilarious anachronisms and a passing glance at Quentin Tarantino, throws woke values to the wind, with an understanding of how family memories get made.
And then, there are the parents. Toni Servillo opposite Teresa Saponangelo with their cooing whistle of just three little notes and an extrapolation of fury that will haunt you, offers an understanding of the epitome of a loving couple. They are Fabietto’s folks and they imbue him with an understanding of himself that comes with unsurpassed joy and unexpected heaviness: the kind of things that make him a man.
But it’s not just extremes in this delightful work. It’s values. It’s weird looking characters who are there to lend the work texture. It’s a retarded adult who plays hopscotch and a thug who certainly can steer his boat. It’s a miserable elder who will don a fur coat in summer, so that people will remember she possesses such a garment, and a new boyfriend who comes with his own electrolarynx. It’s the Baroness in the upstairs flat (Betty Pedrazzi) who signals that she needs attention by banging her broom on her floor. Five times. And there is Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) who is certifiable but offers Fabietto a glimpse into what a woman can be.
All this is but a tip of the iceberg – not to forget the mysterious little monk and a whole litany of superstition and reality, good behaviour and bad, belief and insanity that seeps through the corners of this beautiful rich deep work, and resonates with the type of devil-may-care values articulated by the ilk of Gunter Grass in The Tin Drum translated into an iridescent film by Volker Schlöndorff in 1979.
If you subscribe to Netflix and see one production ever, make it this one. The official trailer to this film doesn’t even begin to touch sides in offering an understanding of how fulsome and gorgeous the fabric of this piece is.
The Hand of God is directed by Paolo Sorrentino and features a cast headed by Birte Berg, Pietro Bontempo, Alessandro Bressanello, Catello Buonocore, Viviana Cangiano, Ciro Capano, Renato Carpentieri, Fiorenza D’Antonio, Enzo De Caro, Roberto De Francesco, Gennaro De Stefano, Terenzio Del Gaudio, Christiana Dell’Anna, Rossella Di Lucca, Christiano Di Maio, Mariana Falace, Luigi Fiorentino, Cherish Gaines, Massimiliano Gallo, Sofya Gershevich, Marlon Joubert, Claudio Lardo, Mimma Lovoi, Madeleine Majdal, Biagio Manna, Lubomir Misak, Antonella Morea, Alessandro Moser, Lino Musella, Monica Nappo, Roberto Oliveri, Betty Pedrazzi, Gerardo Daniele Pianese, Franco Pinelli, Carmen Pommella, Luisa Ranieri, Giulio Ricciarelli, Dora Romano, Raffaele Russo, Adriano Saleri, Giovanni Sanseverino, Teresa Saponangelo, Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Antonio Speranza, Paolo Spezzferri, Roberto Urbani and Marina Viro. In Italian with English subtitles, it is written by Paolo Sorrentino. Produced by Lorenzo Mieli and Paolo Sorrentino, it features creative input by Lele Marchitelli (music), Daria D’Antonio (cinematography), Cristiano Travaglioli (editing), Massimo Appolloni and Annamaria Sambucco (casting), Carmine Guarino (production design) and Mariano Tufano (costume design). Release date on Netflix: 24 November 2021.