American film audiences aren't exposed to as many foreign films as they perhaps should be, but if they do come across an Italian import in recent years, there's a good chance that it was made by Paolo Sorrentino. The highly-lauded writer/director is responsible for the gems "Il Divo" and "The Great Beauty," and is also the creator of the HBO series "The Young Pope." His last American-language film, "Youth," was one of the best films of that year.
His most recent film, "The Hand of God," (now available to stream on Netflix) may not be his best or most effective film, but it is definitely his most personal. It's an autobiographical tale about a young boy and his colorful upbringing in 1980s Tuscany, Italy, that leads him to a life of film...a fate that he may never have had a chance to escape from.
Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) is a young Italian teenager dealing with typical pressures, impulses and thoughts not uncommon of those his age. His fun-loving parents, Saverio (the great Sorrentino muse, Toni Servillo) and Maria (Teresa Saponangelo) would be considered eccentric by any other measure, unless compared to the boisterous cast of characters that populate the rest of Fabietto's family.
Fabietto's older brother Franco (Massimiliano Gallo) is auditioning for a bit part in the famous director, Federico Fellini's, upcoming film (Fellini is never seen but his presence looms large in the film, especially a quote that he is given about how "cinema is just a distraction away from reality," a concept that Sorrentino seems interested in challenging). There is family drama not only with the parents but with their uninhibited Aunt Patrizia, who sunbathes in the nude at a family party, and who captures the imagination of the young (and old) family members who can't look away.
A big-time soccer (football) star, the real-life Diogo Maradona - considered by some to be the greatest soccer player of all-time - is rumored to be signed by Fabietto's favorite home team, and it's all that the men in the family can think about.
As Alfonso Cuaron did - more successfully - a few years back with "Roma," "The Hand of God" is less a fully-realized movie than it is a collection and smattering of personal memories and moments from Sorrentino's youth. We understand what might have led him into a career of story-telling, with such vibrant characters and situations to pull from. Also, the seemingly random "acts of God" that end up sending a person on their life's path.
There are funny moments, and more than a few touching ones, which make it no surprise that "The Hand of God" was chosen by Italy for their Academy Award film selection for this year. It's just not as cohesive or as inherently beautiful as we've come to expect from Sorrentino, who in fairness, has set the bar tremendously high.
Genre: Foreign, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Starring: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo.
Written & Directed by Paolo Sorrentino ("Youth," "The Great Beauty," "Il Divo").
"The Hand of God" is available streaming on Netflix on Wednesday, December 15th, 2021.
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