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Review: The Hand of God – “A charming story of adulthood in the face of tragedy”

The Hand of God may sound like it will be exclusively a football film, but Maradona is merely part of the scenery. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino it is a pseudo biography of the filmmaker’s entry into adulthood, using the character Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) as a stand-in for himself. While Fabietto is the main character the film is dominated and enriched by a bright cast set in Naples, as the city around him is filled with change and energy.

Fabietto is a curious observer of the more colourful characters who come to life magnificently in a lunch scene in the Napoli countryside. The scene is richly curated but feels entirely natural, as the cast laugh and shout – revealing family tensions. It’s these tensions that mould Fabrizio’s entry into adulthood, finding that adults are far more complicated than he has originally believed. The stand-out star is his aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) who the film starts with in a surreal sequence where she encounters the mythical ‘little monk’. For a film rooted in realism the whole opening sequence is such a wonderful weaving of fantasy and reality that echoes the cinematography of Studio Ghibli classics like Porco Rosso where the mythical is almost banal.

There are several moments in the film which feel surreal but it is all deftly handled by Sorrentino and his confidence and experience is felt throughout the film. It is no longer strange to see seasoned talent behind the camera working with the newer streaming platforms, this time appearing on Netflix after a short theatrical release. The Hand of God has already been selected as Italy’s entry into the foreign film category and, as Squid Games has shown most recently, the language barrier falls away once you get passed the subtitles. The Italian setting gives the film its quirks and charms but it’s coming-of-age story is universal.

The other key cast members are Fabietto’s mum, dad and brother, who slowly reveal their complexity to Fabietto. When he finds out his father has had an affair it is too much to handle but his older brother is there to comfort him, it is a striking moment in the film and the shocks keep coming. When the family is hit by a tragedy the film turns its eye to Fabietto as the main character rather than as the bystander he has played throughout the film. Fillippo Scotti is a novice to the film world in his first on-screen appearance but he is brilliant in this role as the awkward teenager that somehow looks like Timothée Chalamet.

From the striking backdrop of Naples and the sea, The Hand of God is a charming story of adulthood in the face of tragedy. Combined with the rich, memorable characters that make up Fabietto’s family. As a coming-of-age story it follows the familiar tread with a confident and personal touch.

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