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Thread: THE HAND OF GOD (Paolo Sorrentino 2021)

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    THE HAND OF GOD (Paolo Sorrentino 2021)

    THE HAND OF GOD/È STATO LA MANO DI DIO (Paolo Sorrentino 2021)



    Sorrentino's magical reimagining of his own youth

    After being taken to a theater to watch the dispiriting Being the Ricardos yesterday, that evening by myself I watched Paolo Sorrentino's The Hand of God on Netflix and was uplifted. Following a series of brilliant films on public subjects, Sorrentino has now made a passionate and personal one, more moving than anything he has done before. Whether it is a masterpiece or not I cannot say, but this, his first autobiographical film, is full of powerful emotion and one big memorable scene after another. It's hard for me to judge it objectively because I was in tears nearly all the way through.I have always loved coming-of-age movies. Not everyone does. This is an epic, grand one, magnificently Italian. As Sorrentino, who is now 51, has said in revisiting the scenes of the film, the Naples where he lived for 37 years but had not been for many years, he had almost forgotten, but when he came back, 37 years is a long time, so it all came back - all, all, all - "tutto, tutto, tutto." (Sorrentino's Italian has something at once extravagant and modest about it.) Returning to Naples was "scontrare con il massimo del dolore e il massimo della gioia," "to encounter immense pain and immense joy."

    Italians have a matter of fact, repressed side, but we know them truly as operatic scene stealers. We have to realize that this is their natural element, and for them is sincere. Sorrentino however is here not just being Italian but redefining the autobiographical film as opera. If you tune in, you get a sequence of breathtakingly powerful and beautiful scenes that grow out of deep, personal feeling, a kind of grandiose sincerity. This is today's greatest Italian director working balls-out at the height of his powers. This is everything that is extravagant and magical about Italian culture - and film, with a frank debt to Fellini but Fellini reimagined in a new, utterly personal way.

    It's the story of Fabietto (memorable newcomer Filippo Scotti), a slim, curly-haired young fellow with a bigger, older brother, Marchino (Marlon Joubert), a would-be actor, and two parents, Saverio (Toni Servillo) and Maria (Teresa Saponangelo). The latter will be taken from him in the most wrenching moment at the center of the film. It's this "immense pain" that will turn him into an artist, though he is full of doubt, but, quite young, with little experience of movies, convinced that he wants to become a director.

    Before we reach this point there is a lovely, humorous, baroque, Felliniesque panorama of all the colorful people in Fabietto's life. They include notably, besides his Mamma and Papà whom he loves deeply, the Baronessa (Betty Pedrazzi), an aristocratic, ironic figure, and the doomed, lovely Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) - the first of whom will relieve him of his virginity, and the second is to be his inspiration, object of desire, and muse.

    Through it all there is a public theme too, the most public of themes, for this is the moment in the mid-Eighties when Argentine midfielder superstar Diego Maradona, the greatest footballer of all time (as the screen title emphatically tells us), is bought by the Naples team and Napoli becomes champion of all of Italy, an immense event for Neapolitans, whose passion for soccer is incalculable. This everyone shares, for Italy is a monoculture. In Italy you don't have a choice: everyone lunches and naps at the same hour, and when a roar of applause for Maradona is heard, it rings out from every balcony. "The hand of god" is Maradona's, a fault of touching the ball illegally to score a goal that is given a transcendental interpretation by one of the figures in Fabietto's life. Maradona is a wonder, and this thread underlines how Fabietto's young life as Sorrentino reimagines his own youth, is suffused with magic, as well as extremes of joy and sorrow, delight and pain.

    Perhaps a few of the grand sequences and set pieces of this film, such as Fabietto's encounter with a brusque director who speaks in dialect and with a rough young smuggler and motorboat pilot who makes Fabietto a friend, may seem too fanciful; the seduction of the Baronessa may seem borderline embarrassing; the relationship with the older brother, for all its imagined intimacy and love, may seem too superficial. But no matter, it is a bold stroke to make this slight young man the center of the film, a creature evidently becoming, not yet resolved. There is a mastery here that weaves all the sequences together into one flowing, pulsating panorama. I am in thrall to its joy and pain when I watch this film. Even if I am admiring it too much I would not admire it any less. This kind of dazzling fluency with images and people and scenes reminds me why I love movies, and how at its best cinema becomes the most complete of art forms. The saddest thing of all is that it reminds us how great Italian movies used to be.

    The Hand of God/ È stato la mano di Dio, 130 mins., debuted at Venice, where it received the Grand Jury Prize, and the Marcello Mastroianni Award for its star, Fillipo Scotti.. Sorrentino won the 2014 Best Foreign Film Oscar and numerous other international awards and nominations for La Grande Bellezza/The Great Beauty. All his most important films have starred the brilliant Toni Servillo, except this one, where he steps back and plays the young protagonist's father. This film is under appreciated by Anglophone critics: Metascore 76%. Not so in France, where its AlloCiné critics rating is 4.1, 82%. It is Italy's Oscar entry for 2022. In theaters in limited release from Nov. 24, 2021 and on Netflix from Dec. 15.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-04-2022 at 03:03 PM.

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    "The Hand of God" is the film chosen for the re-opening of the Cosford Cinema , even if it will only show movies intermittently, not as an everyday theater. I will teach a course that has a screening every Tuesday aafternoon at this space where movies have been projected since 1947, and where I watched my first silent film in the year 1980. Sorrentino's movie-movie is the perfect choice to celebrate the theater's re-opening. Great that Bill Cosford's protege and former Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez will do the programming. It's great to have such a passionate review of the film from Chris Knipp in this old forum.

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    It's good to hear this and of your continued association with the Cosford Cinema in its limited reopening. I hope you enjoy and love The Hand of God half as much I do, as the term "movie movie" implies you do.

    I hadn't noted that the film won the grand prize at Venice and wasn't aware Filippo Scotti won the Mastroianni acting award there too: I've added this information at the end of my review. It deserves many awards and fewer niggling Metacritic reviews.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-26-2021 at 12:25 AM.

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    I hope I won't get in trouble for reprinting Mike D'Angelo's Patreon private subscription "review" (they're more like personal cinephile journal entries than his more explanatory published reviews) of THE HAND OF GOD. I said not everyone likes coming of age films. It seems there is also a group of viewers who've had their fill of filmmaker coming-of-age films. But it's good to see how someone much less sympathetic describes the film. It's very valid, though I'd say despite his Italian name, Mike may have less sympathy for the Italian point of view than I do. We can't really fault Italian men for being Italian men, nor is a lack of interest in sports - remarkably sweeping - an excuse of passing over the central unifying role of Diego Maradona in THE HAND OF GOD. He's even the source of the title. Note: in D'Angelo's ultra-severe private film-nerd grading system, a 57 isn't as horrible as it might seem, just not great. It's in good company. He gave De Sica's TERMINAL Station a 58, THE FRENCH DISPATCH a 52, KING RICHARD a 61; THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (Metascore 90%),which he seems to like, a 58. (D'Angelo was one of the earliest significant online-only film critics. He seems to have gotten a lot less work lately as paid movie reviewers retire or die off and are not replaced. But he still gets to see a lot more important first-run movies much sooner than I do.)

    From Mike D'Angelo.

    The Hand of God (2021, Paolo Sorrentino)

    57/100

    Surprisingly conventional, albeit in a very Italian-male sort of way; it plays very much like Sorrentino's Amarcord, right down to the adolescent fixation on older women's enormous breasts (coupled with said women's suspiciously convenient penchant for titillating/seducing boys). His teenage alter ego never quite comes into focus as a character, which perhaps explains why Hand of God opens with Patrizia meeting the Little Monk—a fanciful scene, more in line with Sorrentino's standard mode, at which Fabié wasn't present (though racing to her rescue afterward with his parents was clearly a crucial memory), but one that offers a sense of beauty (that grounded chandelier!) and mystery (limo saint!) rarely seen again after the kid's perspective takes over. Furthermore, the central tragedy—reportedly autobiographical, even if I was reminded that the exact same unsensed horror befell "Weird Al" Yankovic's mom and dad—is doubly tragic in that it deprives us of the film's two most vital presences. Mom's love of slightly cruel practical jokes counterbalances her over-the-top marital anguish, and of course Servillo is Servillo, twinkling with private amusement; their final moments are beautifully handled, and intensely moving if you're aware (or can intuit) that Sorrentino has re-imagined the worst thing that ever happened to him as a tender tribute to their respective natures. (I also rolled my eyes at the running gag in which we never see Daniela, who's always in the bathroom, only to be caught off guard by the catharsis when she finally emerges.) Fabietto losing his virginity to the upstairs Baroness, on the other hand, feels dully familiar despite being somewhat outré, and I'd argue that the world could get along just fine at this point without another portrait of the aspiring filmmaker as a young man. As for Maradona, he means nothing to me—not a sports guy—but replace him with, say, Memoria ("sorry, Mom and Dad, it's only playing this one week and then I might never have another chance to see it") and I feel like my Joe fandom would likely be forever tainted by survivor's guilt. That's a potentially interesting aftermath, but it ain't this film's.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-26-2021 at 12:28 AM.

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