Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) lives a loud life that he barely contributes to. The teenager is surrounded – constantly – by a boisterous, bawdy family, soaked in the Neapolitan sun and absorbing the sometimes outdated, sometimes violent, often absurd vivacity around him. Between boat rides and outdoor family dinners, he is a physical participant and emotional observer of an idyll. But Fabietto cannot believe his luck when headlines begin to hint at Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona in signing discussions with Napoli. Despite family disbelief that the sporting legend would deign to play for a team of their little prestige, Maradona arrives, and Fabietto goes to watch his idol in action.
Here, the second half begins. The Hand of God is both a reference to Maradona’s infamous possible handball that clinched victory at the 1986 World Cup, as well as Fabietto’s and director Paolo Sorrentino’s own night watching Maradona play for Napoli in the mid-1980s. When Fabietto returns home, he is quickly shuttled to the hospital to find his parents have died from a carbon monoxide leak. Dizzy, mourning, confused at having never been given a chance to see their bodies, his rage, grief, confusion, and attempts to process them under the wing of an esteemed filmmaker gives the tale a yawning grief that continues to spin under all self-discovery.
Sorrentino makes no secret of the autobiographical nature of The Hand of God, down to his belief that Maradona saved his life. The director eschews the wry detachment he brought to his previous works, opting for a sun-drenched romanticism that centralises Fabietto’s nascent self-awareness and teenage worldview – notably in the first half. Focus wanders, scenes go nowhere, Fabietto’s stolen yet hardly secretive glimpses of female anatomy lead to no greater understanding of sex or life, but The Hand of God celebrates the moment. And while the film’s melancholic second half offers no closure or adulthood for Fabietto – he still remains poised at boyhood’s end – the reflectiveness Scotti brings to Fabietto’s every reaction capture the uncertainty of life with loss and love without guidance.
This extended reference and intensely personal focus of The Hand of God bring a meditative quality to the whirlwind of emotions and half-finished themes. It is a frustrating watch on a narrative level, but extraordinarily satisfying, comforting, and all-engrossing on an emotional level. Fabietto does not need to be ‘grown’ at the end. He does not need to rationalise senseless accidents and the gaping holes of grief, because Sorrentino believes the audience will move with him through false starts and first attempts – perhaps as those in his world moved with, trusted, and cared for him in the wake of tragedy. The faith pays off.
The Hand of God is streaming on Netflix now
by Carmen Paddock
Carmen is an American living in Scotland. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School, and while now working in technology she keeps her love of film alive through overenthusiastic writing and an unhealthy amount of time spent at the cinema. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ever After, and Thor: Ragnarok. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie