Review: The Hand of God

Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the story of a boy in the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s. Sorrentino’s most personal film yet is a tale of fate and family, sports and cinema, love and loss. Starring: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo and Betty Pedrazzi.

If you’re looking for a coming of age tale, with a bit more style and gravitas then you’ve found the right one with The Hand of God. Sorrentino’s writing is sweet, sincere, very funny and delightfully awkward, embracing youth as well as family and history. One of the more unexpected elements is that its sense of humour leans towards the macabre, which put against the bluntly honest nature of its characters is endlessly entertaining to watch. There’s a huge amount of charm emanating from these characters and the love that the story convincingly builds between them. It maybe extends itself slightly longer than it needed to, there is a touch of indulgence in its telling, as you’d expect from a filmmaker like Sorrentino. However, the pacing is excellent, the humour and genuine edge keep it going from start to finish. There are a few flaws here and there, some avenues that are followed further than necessary and some that aren’t delved into enough.

Then there’s the one element that may simply pass by for some but be uncomfortable for others, the fact that all the men of the family lust after the attractive aunt. It’s the type of odd, unnecessary sexual angle you’d see of films made in the time period that this one is set in, but it feels like in this day and age, we can happily ditch the young man wanting to have sex with a blood relative angle. What you take away from that, considering this is an intensely personal story to the filmmaker, is entirely up to each viewer, depending on whether you find it creepy or normal.

It’s one of many elements which shows how committed this film is to recreating its time, the style and movement of it feel dialled in to the 1980s. It creates an easy-going atmosphere, in tune with its lead which easily draws you in then as it continues, it reveals a hidden depth and expands its energy into much more moving territory. Unsurprisingly, given its setting, the locations are incredible and a joy to watch unfold, full of colour, life and natural beauty. It elevates what could be your usual coming of age tale into a film which genuinely feels like classic cinema.

The cast is wonderful, they truly feel like a family and their banter and chemistry are a delight. Scotti’s Fabietto has an intelligent but lovingly hapless feel, getting across his typically naïve and thirsty characteristics, as well as his desire to learn and find his passion in life. Marlon Joubert is the perfect older brother, while Servillo and Saponangelo are brilliant parents, creating a particularly special bond. Luisa Ranieri’s Patrizia may spend a good chunk of the film as a sexual object, she’s eventually redeemed by showing the layers hiding beneath that glamorous exterior. The whole cast are spectacular choices and they each work together effortlessly.

The Hand of God is charming, funny and shot beautifully. It’s both moving and highly entertaining, it has the youthful energy of a coming of age story, added to a larger emotional depth and impact. There’s an incredible cast at work who perfectly create this sweet, silly and sincere family. A few elements will work better for some than others, and it may be considered slightly long but it’s hugely enjoyable and moves at a great pace. Not to mention that you genuinely can’t beat those Italian vistas.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯| 8/10

In UK cinemas from 3 December & on Netflix 15 December

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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