DIRECTOR: Paolo Sorrentino

CAST: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Luisa Ranieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Renato Carpentieri, Marlon Joubert, Betti Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo De Caro, Sofya Gershevich, Lino Musella, Roberto Oliveri

RUNNING TIME: 130 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: In 1980s Naples, a young boy (Scotti) begins to forge a path for himself…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Contrary to what the title may suggest, The Hand of God isn’t a biopic of the late football legend Diego Maradona (after all, why bother when the pretty good Asif Kapadia-directed documentary is already out there?). However, while the man himself only makes an extremely small appearance in writer-director Paolo Sorrentino’s film – and even then, it’s from a faraway perspective – he is still very much central to the story. Or, at least, the surprisingly thin one that Sorrentino’s reflective movie sticks to, in an alarmingly uneven film which contains equal amounts of things that work and stuff that doesn’t.

The setting is Naples during the 1980s, where teenager Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) lives with his eccentric family, who like the rest of the city are waiting on baited breath over rumours that Diego Maradona is about to sign with the local football team (spoiler alert: the rumours turn out to be true). This section of the movie is by far the most scattershot, as we’re mainly just watching Fabietto observe the lives and oddball personalities of his numerous – and honestly, much more interesting – relatives, from his caring parents (Toni Servillo and Teresa Saponangelo) to his wannabe actor brother (Marlon Joubert), to his loony and voluptuous aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) who, for all intents and purposes, everyone including horny young Fabietto wants to bang.

It isn’t as if it’s an intolerable first half of the movie, as there is fun to be had watching these wildly exaggerated characters interact with each other and be as underhandedly cruel as families are allowed to be with each other, with Fabietto’s mother pulling some hardcore practical jokes like she’s in an episode of Jackass, or the grouchy old matriarch who spews venomous insults to everyone who crosses her path. There are even parts where things get rather weird, such as an opening section with Patrizia that feels like it could have come straight out of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. However, barely any of it provides the film with a true narrative hook, with its anecdotal structure getting in the way of proper story and character development and leaving the viewer to wonder where exactly things are going, since it isn’t providing much clarity as to what the point of most of what we’re seeing is.

It isn’t until the second half of the movie, when something extremely tragic happens to our young protagonist and forces him to deal with said life-changing incident, that Sorrentino’s film finally picks up speed. The filmmaker’s semi-autobiographical intentions – similar to what a number of directors are currently doing, from Alfonso Cuarón to Kenneth Branagh – become more apparent, with Sorrentino surrogate Fabietto taking stronger precedence in the movie as opposed to just being a passive observer, going through some very rough and occasionally questionable development throughout (the scene in which he finally loses his virginity is, to say nothing about the circumstances nor even who it’s with, a little difficult to watch without feeling so icky inside). Here, the film actually feels like it has purpose, or at least a tight enough focus on the things and people that matter, which was sorely missing during that first, much more all-over-the-place first half.

The Hand of God feels like a film comprised of two entirely separate scripts: one being a mumblecore slice-of-life piece with an episodic structure instead of a full-blown narrative, and the other being this raw, often emotional coming-of-age drama this side of Call Me By Your Name. The problem is, because Sorrentino doesn’t know which direction to go in with his film, he ends up leading the audience down a much more uncertain path, hoping that the admittedly dazzling cinematography will distract from the lack of control he appears to have here. By the time that the movie eventually does find its footing, enough time has passed for you to be left feeling a little lost during the unfocused former half, so when things actually do start to matter it’s almost like you’re experiencing a bit of whiplash with what exactly everything beforehand has been leading up to.

Again, it isn’t as though this is an overall bad film, because there are things about it that do work – some of the performances are very endearing, particularly Toni Servillo and Teresa Saponangelo as our main character’s parents, and of course it’s a very well-made movie with some gorgeous shots of the Naples atmosphere as well as other surrounding areas of this Italian subculture. However, The Hand of God lacks a firm grip that some of Sorrentino’s other films had, preventing this very personal film of his from being one of his utmost strongest pieces of work.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Hand of God is a much more personal project from writer-director Paolo Sorrentino, but although there are plenty of things about it that work, from some endearing performances to its gorgeous cinematography, its loose narrative structure and lack of focus within its first, much more scattershot section prevent this from being one of his best works.

The Hand of God will be available on Netflix from Wednesday 15th December 2021.

It is also now showing in select cinemas nationwide.

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