“Thank you to my sources of inspiration: Federico Fellini, Talking Heads, Martin Scorsese and Diego Armando Maradona.”
When Paolo Sorrentino went on stage to accept the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Great Beauty on March 2, 2014, he mentioned two great film masters, one of most beloved and respected music bands in the world, and arguably the greatest soccer player of all time. Why on earth would a film director thank a sportsman in an acceptance speech for an Oscar, many would wonder.
It is the summer of 1984. Fabio is the teenage son of the Schisa family: his father Saverio, works at a bank; Maria, his mother, lives at home keeping the house, and who has fun pulling pranks on relatives and neighbors; Marco is his brother, a college student with a lot of time on his hands; and he also has a sister, Daniela, whose only purpose seems to be to keep everyone from using the bathroom of the house. They live in Naples, and they have a large circle of relatives, friends, and acquaintances: from Patrizia and Franco, Fabio’s aunt and uncle who are going through a marriage crisis, to the Baroness who lives upstairs and feels disdain for everyone. It’s a special summer for Fabio and his family, and it’s a special summer for the entire city: the beloved local soccer team is about to sign the greatest player in the world, Diego Armando Maradona. It’s a new day for Naples, and suddenly family struggles are forgotten, there’s a new hero to celebrate. Maradona becomes a legendary figure for the city, and he gets inevitably entangled with Fabio’s life when a grave incident disrupts the normal course of his life. What happened? What will happen? Fabio has to come of age sooner than expected, forcing him to look to his past, to his future and, above all, at himself.
Paolo Sorrentino’s films are never easy to describe. His movies are marked by a peculiar kind of humor, they are a series of vignettes, they feature surreal characters often closely tied to Italian and Neapolitan popular culture. The Hand of God is that, but it’s much, much more. It’s a poetic elegy to a city, a chant of love to a hero, a love letter to a family, and an honest self-portrayal. It’s lively and humorous, tragic and dramatic, epic and intimate. It’s a direct companion to Fellini’s Amarcord, but this is Sorrentino’s Amarcord, made with his own style, filled with his own stories. His voice is resounding and loud, it’s authentic, real, and shakes you to the core. His on-screen alter-ego Filippo Scotti is sensational as the sweet, confused, angry Fabio, who’s still trying to find and understand himself during the summer of a lifetime, where Maradona lands in Naples and he’s experiencing a difficult sexual awakening. Toni Servillo and Teresa Saponangelo are the amazing Saverio and Maria, Fabio’s parents and a couple who never fail to love each other even during the hardest of times; it’s Luisa Ranieri’s movie as aunt Patrizia, the woman who was believed to be crazy but was only free; it’s Betty Pedrazzi’s movie as the Baroness, the enigmatic figure who seems to hate everyone only to give Fabio something he’ll never forget.
Naples is a difficult city, it can be the most beautiful city on Earth and it can also be a living hell. “Why would Maradona come to this shithole?”, everyone thinks. It’s the cynical view Neapolitans have learned to adopt, disillusioned as they have become during the hardships experienced in the past centuries. Maradona believed in the city, and its citizens made him their hero. Naples came on top for the first time in 1986, months after Maradona singlehandedly won Argentina its second Soccer World Cup, with the infamous Hand of God. The Hand of God is Sorrentino’s masterpiece, the film where he finally finds his voice, helped by the incredible cinematography by Daria D’Antonio that gives Naples an unforgettable sublime look. It’s the movie where he becomes a master storyteller, sobered up and focused in a way he has never been before: he tells the story of himself, Fabio, an artistic mind who’s trying to find his place in the world, it tells the story of his family, it tells the story of its citizens. A story of orphans in a city with many orphans, protected by Naples, devouring mother, Saint Gennaro, and Diego Armando Maradona, the second patron saint of the city.
This review is from the Venice Film Festival. Netflix will release The Hand of God in Italy on November 24, in select theaters on December 3 and then globally on Netflix December 15.
Photo: Gianni Fiorito