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Review: The Hand of God is a catalog of miracles and awe

Jake Coyle | Associated Press

Paolo Sorrentino’s films can be overwhelmed, grotesque and uneven, but they are rarely alive.

His latest “Hand of God” is a catalog of miracles – miracles both trivial and eternal. Sparkling night panorama of Naples harbor. The soft thud of a motor boat on the water. Nude body of a beautiful sunbathing woman.

Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, The Great Beauty, was also filled with thrill and sensation as he roamed Rome. In The Hand of God, which opens in theaters on Wednesday by Netflix and begins airing on December 15, the director veered south to his hometown to direct an autobiographical film based on his 1980s childhood. Yet Sorrentino, a melancholic yet enthusiastic filmmaker with an impatient, energetic camera, is in the same mood here, finding divine splendor in the everyday and the secular.

Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the Italian Academy Awards, Hand of God is a more personal workaround for 51-year-old Sorrentino. His exaggerated cast of characters comes from his own family. Our replacement protagonist is teenage Fabietto Schiza (Filippo Scotti), a shy young man with a ball of curly hair and Walkman headphones around his neck. He mainly observes the family circus around him: his charismatic father Saverio (Tony Servillo, a regular at Sorrentino), his joker mother Maria (Teresa Saponangelo, amazing) and his budding actor brother Marcino (the gentle Marlon Joubert).

There are other key figures as well, such as Fabietto’s gorgeous aunt Patricia (Louise Ranieri), whose suspicious husband is cruel, and Diego Maradona, a football legend whose unlikely acquisition of Napoli was rumored at the start of the film. When he does arrive, it’s like straight out of heaven. (This is a hectic time, brilliantly documented in Diego Maradona by Asif Kapadia.) Both Patricia and Maradona are similar to the phenomena in Fabietto’s life, which here seems caricature-piquant, until tragedy pushes him and the Hand of God into another kingdom. …

Recently, we have had quite a few portraits of directors in their youth – a delightful two-part “Memento” by Joanna Hogg and “Belfast” by Kenneth Branagh. For Sorrentino, whose surreal flourishes, especially “Great Beauty” in the style of “La Dolce Vita”, drew comparisons from Fellini, this is his Amarcord. (Fellini even plays a cameo role in the casting scene here.) But autobiography doesn’t always seem natural to Sorrentino. As a master of decline and decline, he had a preference for older characters (the politician from the dynamic Il Divo, the aged buddies of Youth), and his orientation was to make extravagant, stylish films about the world, not himself. Perhaps that is why “The Hand of God” is most vividly depicted when she looks around – at Naples, at the minor characters of Dickens.

Many scenes shine like his father using a long pole to change channels on a television. The remote control for him is a sign of unjustified excess. “We are communists,” he says. “We are honest to the core.” My favorite is Hand of God, where parents are in the spotlight, in part because of how good Servillo and Saponangelo are together, but also because the film becomes more capricious and disconnected as they leave.

But what interrupts the flow of The Hand of God also fosters Fabietto’s perfection and leads to his new ambition: to become a director. Little about this revelation or any other in The Hand of God is perfectly clear. Sorrentino’s film is touching in part because it doesn’t fully match his memories – he seems to still be working on the past. Although Fabietto has seen only a few films, such as Once Upon a Time in America, he is forced to make films when grief leaves him in search of a goal. “The reality is lousy,” says Fabietto, quoting Fellini. In his predicament, The Hand of God is reworked and Sorrentino himself as a director seeking and keeping a miracle where he can find it. His visual feasts are food for him, and maybe for us.


“God’s hand”

3 stars out of 4

Rating: R (for sexual content, language, nudity, and short-term drug use)

Duration: 130 minutes

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