Authenticity and being true to oneself are large factors that define the best filmmakers of any generation. These traits are also what define Paolo Sorrentino’s new film THE HAND OF GOD, a personal story of a teenager in Naples, Italy who is looking to become his own person within the chaos of an overbearing, yet loving family. Sorrentino claims to have written this film about true events that happened in his childhood, and whether or not this is true, the passion and love for the material shows through the fantastic filmmaking. Much of the first act of the film consists of the younger Sorrentino, played excellently by Filippo Scotti and named Fabietto in the narrative, being drowned out by his family’s banter and gossip. The film cements into the audience the nature of the family and of the culture before it focuses in on Fabietto and becomes a personal coming-of-age story.
The very first shot of THE HAND OF GOD is one of the most stunning of 2021 — a sweeping helicopter shot of Naples from the sea in front of it, giving viewers a look at the vastness of the city and the extent of the culture before sharing one of the many personal stories from it. THE HAND OF GOD is just as much a film about the city of Naples and the people in it as it is a story about a teenager who has a love for football (soccer in America) and his eventual desire to direct film. Sorrentino understands that his story is just one of many stories from his city that could be told in a film format, and he constantly highlights the great number of supporting characters, showing their issues as well as his own. Supposedly, Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful Roma was a major inspiration for Sorrentino’s decision to produce this film. Cuaron proved that a specific, personal story could become a successful and acclaimed movie that connects with people on different levels all over the world. THE HAND OF GOD will likely achieve this feat as well, delivering a story that anyone will find something in.
While the culture-specific ramblings of Fabietto’s family near the beginning are essential to contextualize the story, they also drag the movie’s pacing. Multiple times during the runtime, it is difficult to comprehend what direction the plot seems to be going in, which requires the audience to be patient before any direct characterization or important events kick in. However, Fabietto’s story is still an entrancing one full of inspiration, self-discovery and great sadness. The film is full of oddly specific details that could only be told by someone who took those events from lived experiences, and despite the dragging pace is full of a cultural richness that is rare in a movie that crosses over to American audiences. Sorrentino shows the community of the people in Naples, Italy through their shared excitement for football superstar Diego Maradona’s transfer to the Napoli club. At times, the people in Naples develop a larger attachment to Maradona than they do to their loved ones and religious beliefs, which shows the importance of community and idolization in the culture of Sorrentino’s youth.
By the end, THE HAND OF GOD is a coming of age story first and foremost. The innocent bantering of the first 30 minutes feels years away by the time the final act arrives, similar to how one’s first day of high school feels like a lifetime ago after turning 20 years-old. Fabietto’s future feels almost within grasp when the movie ends, which is a hopeful irony given the product of his future endeavors is the very film being viewed. Sorrentino’s journey back to his childhood is one worth taking, and not just if you can relate to the culture or the specific details of the story. THE HAND OF GOD is a personal story that viewers seldom see in cinemas these days, and more films need to be produced with the same intimate roots and open-minded possibilities.