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The Hand of God LFF Film Review

★★★★★

 


Warning: spoilers


The Hand of God, as much as it may feel like typical Sorrentino - floating corridors, religious surrealism, Toni Servillo - is overall more of a detour from the director’s previous work, taking us back in time to Naples in the 80s. While it is unashamedly personal, it’s also a delicate, entrancing portrait of youth, family, destiny and cinema.

The film focuses on Neapolitan teen and Sorrentino-surrogtate Fabietto Schisa (played by Filippo Scotti), whose passions are split between cinema, football, and his Aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) who is something of a muse; considered insane by others, Fabietto knows that mystery and miracles enshroud the eccentric aunt, that she will somehow contribute to his coming of age. Indeed Fabietto faces the mounting pressures of adulthood; his father Saverio, played with nonchalant piss-taking energy by Toni Servillo, tells his son to lose his virginity fast, even if it means going to bed with ‘a dog’. Fabietto has a less-than-conventional upbringing, his mother Maria (Teresa Saponangelo) prone to playing cruel pranks, like frightening her husband with a fake bear. It’s a charming but certainly not perfect marriage - Fabietto’s father has been having an affair with his secretary and when the news is revealed, domestic hell breaks loose. Fabietto is not impervious to the pain of a house breaking from within, but nothing can prepare him for an upcoming disaster: while at a football match watching Maradona, his parents have been killed by a carbon monoxide leak.


The hospital scene, where Fabietto is informed his parents have passed, marks a powerful tonal shift in the film from Fellini-esque circus to Visconti-style melancholy. Fabietto gets stuck on a loop, repeating his request that he sees the corpses, which the doctors deny. These long-shots of Fabietto falling apart in the hospital reveal an emptiness to the screen which has previously been crammed with energy and spectacle. From here on, Fabietto wonders through Naples trying to piece together a potential future. While his brother admits that he’ll spend his life escaping pain, Fabietto believes that such escape is impossible. He gravitates towards cinema, wanting to become a filmmaker, with the idea that he’ll be able to make sense of his pain through art.


Sorrentino’s Naples resemble Fellini’s Rome, with its mix of burlesque characters and vibrant family. The traffic jam at the start of the movie hurtles into 8 1/2 and the helicopter shots of Naples echo back to La Dolce Vita. Fabietto’s brother even auditions for a Fellini movie in the hope of becoming an actor. But rather than simply play tribute to the Maestro, this coloration of Naples imbues it with a teenager’s eye for exaggeration, brashness, and mystery. Sorrentino is always a magician of cinematic wonder, there is no exception here.

Autobiographical in content, The Hand of God doesn’t falter like other self-portraitures, say, Jodorowsky’s Dance of Reality which indulges the self-image of tortured artist. Sorrentino’s poetic memoir is interested in universality. In its final image, Fabietto sits alone on a train waving goodbye to a child dressed like a monk (presumably a reflection of his childhood), making for a sincere departure from innocence. Excitement for the future and irreparable loss come together, Fabietto’s nostalgia of the present seeping in. It infects us with its beauty.

 


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