Paolo Sorrentino has made some exceptional films, including ‘Il Divo’ and ‘The Great Beauty’ (my favorite) but he says it took twenty years—and the courage he derived from watching Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma—to tell his own coming-of-age story in The Hand of God. I’m sorry he struggled so long with this project but it was well worth the wait.
The film’s opening sequences are reminiscent of Fellini’s Amarcord, revealing our adolescent hero’s mental snapshots of his family, a rich assortment of eccentrics—odd-looking, vulgar, intensely human. He remembers them fondly, in some cases lustfully, yet when his brother actually auditions for Fellini the director dismisses him as being too conventional-looking.
The boy’s emotions are dominated by the arrival of soccer star Diego Maradona in Naples. It is all he thinks about—until tragedy suddenly enters his life and changes his outlook. In the wake of that incident, and a chance meeting with a local filmmaker, the seeds are sewn that have borne fruit as Sorrentino has become a world-class storyteller.
The Hand of God is filled with the kind of detail that could only have come from observation—and memory. That one family could contain so many unique and peculiar people is a reminder that truth is almost always stranger than fiction. Who could invent an obese aunt who insists on wearing a fur coat (in order to show off) and spits out insults to everyone within earshot? Or a loving mother who insists on playing childish pranks?
Aimlessness, ennui, hero worship, grief: an adult appreciates that these feelings help build character, but a boy knows only the heartache they cause. I’m grateful that Sorrentino plumbed his memory to bring these episodes to life so open-heartedly. The Hand of God never strikes a false note.