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The Hand of God

Director: Paolo Sorrentino (Italy, USA). Year of Release: 2021

Naples, 1984. The camera pans languidly around the bay before coming inland and focussing on a bus stop. More specifically on a woman in a white dress waiting at the bus stop. The camera seems particularly interested in her large breasts. A chauffeur driven car pulls up. The man in the back introduces himself as San Gennaro [aka the patron Saint of Naples]. He knows her name – Patrizia – and tells her that the bus never comes on time and he’ll give her a lift home.

She is at first reluctant, but he reveals more information about her – that her husband’s name is Franco, and they are having difficulties conceiving. Before taking her home, he takes her back to his place, introduces her to a Little Monk (not a euphemism), and invites her to kiss the monk on the head. Once she does this, he tells her that her fertility problems are over. Then he grabs her arse.

When Patrizia does get home, Franco shouts at her, repeatedly calling her a whore and striking her. She locks herself into the bedroom and rings her sister who comes to calm things down, accompanied by her son Fabietto. At some stage in the fight, one of Patrizia’s breasts comes loose, and she just leaves it hanging there, while Fabietto stares on open mouthed.

Is this Art, or is this gratuitous objectification of women? What about the scene later in the film, where the family go out on a boat, and Patrizia decides to engage in some nude sunbathing. By now, we are essentially viewing the film through the Fabietto’s eyes. The camera lingers on Patrizia’s naked body. Later on, Fabietto’s father tries to help him lose his virginity, saying that for the first time, it really doesn’t matter how ugly they are.

This is a film of two halves. The first half is spent in the company of Fabietto’s grotesque family. I’m not using the word pejoratively here – they’re not terrible people, they have just been drawn with a caricaturist’s pen which emphasizes individual characteristics for effect. So the one who sits apart eating mozzarella is uncouth, the fat one is obviously ugly, and the man with the voicebox who is courting the fat ugly one is boring.

The only ones with any character are Fabietto’s immediate family. His brother would like to be an actor and gets very excited when Fellini comes to town for auditions, but is rejected essentially because he is too good looking. His parents are sickeningly in love, making bird whistles at each other. Well they are, until it is discovered that his father is having an affair.

And then, half way through, for different reasons the family members disappear. Fabietto is left more or less on his own to pursue his dream of becoming a film director – despite him having only ever seen 4 films, and showing no obvious interest or understanding of film. He bumps into a famous director who initially misanthropically dismisses him, but stops to chat anyway.

I can understand why people would like The Hand of God – it has the elements of a certain sort of satire with origins in Commedia dell’arte that is great as long as you are on board. And many of the scenes of Naples harbour are just scintillating. Although I must admit that the film largely bored me, it was always easy to gain enjoyment by looking at the background scenery.

And then there’s the subplot that gives the film its title. The film truncates too incidents – the ridiculous decision of the world’s best footballer Diego Maradona to sign for Napoli, when they were near the bottom of Serie A, and then almost single-handedly winning them trophies. And then Maradona’s handball goal against England in 1986, which one of the film’s characters describes as a victory for anti-imperialism and revenge for the Malvinas war.

Although we do get a sight of him in a car, Maradona remains peripheral to the film, which is either a relief or a shame depending on how you look at these things. But he remains there as a metaphorical and spiritual figure (it was the Hand of God, after all), who is there as a symbol that even a 5’5’’ chubby man can realise his dreams of international stardom.

Ultimately though, this is a film about director Paolo Sorrentino’s coming of age, a film by and about a teenage boys. So a lot of it depends on how interested you are in the thoughts and history of young boys. The film shares their immaturity and, as already mentioned, a certain inappropriateness around sexuality which made it hard for me to enjoy. But if its your sort of thing (and the film is obviously many people’s sort of thing), don’t let me stop you.

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