The Hand of God review: Deeply personal but underwhelming
James R | On 16, Dec 2021
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Betty Pedrazzi, Luisa Ranieri, Ciro Capano
Where to watch The Hand of God online in the UK: Netflix UK
The Hand of God. The very title of Paolo Sorrentino’s latest sets the stage for a tale of football in Italy, particularly one centred on Diego Maradona, a divisive and thorny subject matter rife with interesting tensions and politics – perfect Paolo Sorrentino material, you might think. The actual truth of it, though, is that this isn’t the Sorrentino we know: The Hand of God is a much more personal affair, one that frames Maradona as a looming influence in his own youth.
The decision of whether to watch a crucial football match turns out to be a turning point in the life of young Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), a 16-year-old who is trying to find his way through life. Questions of sexuality, identity and self-confidence are all jostling for attention, while he also finds himself having to deal with more important tragedies than the performance of SSC Napoli on the pitch. Sorrentino is immediately at home in recreating 1980s Naples, and the sun-drenched period vibes are a joy to soak up, right down to the way that neighbourhoods collectively erupt in response to Maradona’s signing and scoring.
But Sorrentino is perhaps too close to his own material, with his familiar cool irony brushed aside in favour of something more earnest – it’s a less stylised and more naturalistic portrayal of life in his home town, but with that raw, fumbling texture comes a frustrating lack of focus and an ambling structure.
The cast are all game, from Toni Servillo and Teresa Saponangelo as Fabietto’s parents to Birte Berg as his amusingly foul-mouthed grandmother. But Sorrentino doesn’t seem sure who he wants to follow, and so we end up keeping up with all of them, repeatedly going on tangents and wayward asides to see Fabietto’s brother attempt to audition for a Fellini film, to see Fabietto make friends Armando (Biagio Manna), a low-key grifter, to see Fabetto get taken under the wing by his experienced neighbour, the Baroness (Betty Pedrazzi).
Moments such as a bedroom encounter fly by without emotional impact, and Sorrentino only seems to pause significantly to ogle Fabietto’s aunt, Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) – an ogling that could have been presented as critical of the 1980s male gaze but instead sees Sorrentino join the blokey club and stare along with them. By the time the subject of Fabietto being drawn to a career in filmmaking, to find a way to reconcile his reality with his fantasy of what life could be, it’s too little too late; we’re never quite sure what Sorrentino wants to say about this teenager’s growing pains, whether he wants us to sympathise or whether he’s trying to comment on them in hindsight.
Opening with a marvellously observed family dinner, these fragmented recollections eventually lose momentum and, while they certainly capture Fabietto’s gradual coming of age, they leave us feeling a little too much of his aimless adolescence. Director Antonio Capuano (Ciro Capano) tells Fabietto that he needs to find his creative voice – The Hand of God, despite its personal resonance for Sorrentino, takes too long to do just that. What could have been a vivid tour of his formative love of family, life and football feels like an underwhelming, overlong dribble up and down the sidelines.
The Hand of God is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.