Filippo Scotti Toni Servillo Teresa Saponangelo Marlon Joubert Luisa Ranieri
The impressionistic nature of this film transports you to the streets of Napoli, writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s hometown, and introduces his large rambunctious family, most apparently living in the same apartment building. It’s a reflection on his life and about his personal qualities and experiences that led him into filmmaking as a writer, director, actor, and book author. But the first part of the film is a bit overwhelming and confusing with the introduction of tens of characters and no orientation as to what we will be seeing. We just observe a family in motion, with no idea as to who is who.
In this touching memoir, Sorrentino names the main character young Fabietto/Fabio Schisa skillfully played by Filippo Scotti who expresses the personality of a curious boy who takes in and pays attention to all the people, sights and sounds around him. He is a compliant child, willing to please and firmly attached to his mother Maria (Saponangelo), whom he reveres, treasuring all the loving care she gives to him.
We meet members of his colorful family in a situation of abuse, on a noisy picnic, and on a boat ride that involves nude sunbathing and police chasing a smuggler’s boat. Some of the characters are pranksters, and many are reminders of Fellini’s penchant for odd looking, strange people. It’s especially striking when we see an auditorium sized room of decked-out people in all kinds of garb there to audition for a film. But also among family members, some are grossly obese, one has lost his voice to cancer and must use a battery-operated device, one can juggle oranges like a pro, and presiding over all is a matriarch who mainly sits in a chair by herself gorging on food and making hostile remarks. Although these are humorous at times, the attitude toward everyone is one of acceptance and resignation—that’s just how they/things are. Their caring and interest in one another is obvious throughout, as are their passionate writhing in the face of infidelity.
Fabio’s own life includes a number of traumas, with one major setback almost derailing him. He has a plethora of people around him to guide him and give him advice, including the baroness upstairs whose way of asking for help is to bang on the floor (the Schisa’s ceiling) with her cane. When visiting, she doesn’t stay for long because she is bored with, in her view, plebian trivialities. Her assistance to Fabio will have you scratching your head. This is one of those instances where the vastness of the differences between Italians at that time and Americans at this time is so pronounced.
I can’t think of a more artistic and meaningful way of telling one’s story than Paolo Sorrentino’s here. The Hand of God as the title is puzzling until one sees the film. It was inspired first by a soccer game in which a star player makes a goal using his hand rather than his foot, saving the game; but the later reference is to Fabio’s not being in a certain place at a certain time, which was his salvation—the hand of God.
As part of a description of Sorrentino’s path toward filmdom, The Hand of God is also about dealing with being alone and with managing reality. Both issues can be overcome and transcended with a vivid imagination, which is what cinema is all about.
How a thoughtful talented filmmaker came to be—by watching and always wanting to see.
Grade: B+ By Donna R. Copeland