Review: A Neapolitan rhapsody in “The Hand of God”

Paolo Sorrentino’s films can be overworked, grotesque and uneven, but they are rarely not alive.

His latest, “The Hand of God”, is a catalog of wonders – miracles that are both banal and eternal. The scintillating night view of the Port of Naples. The thud of a motorboat on the water. The naked body of a beautiful woman sunbathing.

Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning masterpiece “The Great Beauty” was also filled with awe and thrill as he strolled through Rome. In “The Hand of God,” which Netflix opens in theaters Wednesday and begins airing on December 15, the director turned south to his hometown for an autobiographical film based on his childhood in the 1980s. , Sorrentino, a melancholy but ecstatic filmmaker with an eager and energetic camera, is pretty much in the same state of mind here, finding divine splendor in the everyday and the secular.

“The Hand of God”, winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the Oscar in Italy, is a more personal detour for Sorrentino, 51 years old. Its exaggerated cast of characters draws from its own family. Our protagonist, replacing the director, is teenager Fabietto Schisa (Filippo Scotti), a shy young man with a ball of curly hair and a Walkman helmet around his neck. He is above all an observer of the family circus that surrounds him: his charismatic father Saverio (Toni Servillo, a regular in Sorrentino), his prankster mother Maria (Teresa Saponangelo, formidable) and his budding actor brother Marchino (a tender Marlon Joubert) .

There are other key characters as well, like Fabietto’s gorgeous aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri), whose suspicious husband is abusive, and Diego Maradona, the football legend whose unlikely acquisition by Napoli is rumored at the start of the film. . When it does arrive, it is as if it has come straight from the sky. (It’s a feverish period brilliantly documented in Asif Kapadia’s “Diego Maradona”.) Patrizia and Maradona are like phenomena in the life of Fabietto, who here looks like a cartoonish picaresque until a tragedy propels him. , him and “The hand of God” in another kingdom.

Lately we’ve had quite a few portraits of filmmakers as young people – the lovely two-part “The Souvenir” by Joanna Hogg, “Belfast” by Kenneth Branagh. For Sorrentino, whose surreal flourishes, in particular the “Dolce Vita” -esque “La Grande Beauté”, have made comparisons with Fellini, it is his “Amarcord”. (Fellini even makes an appearance here in a casting call scene.) But autobiography doesn’t always seem like the natural fad for Sorrentino. As the master of decadence and decadence, he largely favored the older characters (the politician of the propellant “Il Divo”, the old buddies of “Youth”), and his orientation has been to make extravagant films and stylish from the world rather than from himself. Perhaps this is why “The Hand of God” is drawn more vividly when she looks around – in Naples, at Dickens’ secondary characters.

Many scenes sparkle, like her father using a long pole to change channels on the TV. A remote control, for him, is a sign of unwarranted excess. “We are communists,” he said. “We are honest to the core. I liked “The Hand of God” the most when the parents are at the center, in part because of the quality of Servillo and Saponangelo together, and because the film becomes more and more temperamental and disconnected once it is over. ‘they left.

But what interrupts the flow of “The Hand of God” also propels him into the maturity of Fabietto and leads him to his new ambition: to be a filmmaker. Little about this revelation, or any other in “The Hand of God”, is completely clear. Sorrentino’s film is touching, in part because it’s not fully reconciled with his memories – it still seems to be working on the past. Although Fabietto has only seen a few films, such as “Once Upon a Time in America”, he is driven to make films when grief leaves him searching for a purpose. “The reality is ugly,” says Fabietto, quoting Fellini. His dilemma redefines “The Hand of God” and Sorrentino, himself, as a filmmaker seeking and storing wonder where he can find it. His visual treats are sustenance meals for him, and perhaps for us.

“The Hand of God,” a Netflix release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity, and a brief Us drug. Duration: 130 minutes. Three out of four stars.


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