Iconic Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino delivers a majestical memoir with this beautifully shot, ribald bout of nostalgia for growing up amongst the anarchy of 1980s Naples.
Paulo Sorrentino has never been more personal in his cinema – nor arguably more powerful.
Recently awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, Sorrentino reasserts himself with The Hand of God as among the most important film directors of his time. Gorgeously wrought by the hand of a master cinematic stylist, the strength of this film comes from his choice to make style wholly subservient to the characters and place he portrays.
With the sensibility of a great documentarian, Sorrentino mines the rich ore of his own youth, his eccentric family and hometown of Naples circa 1984. The barely fictionalised youth of the director feels initially like it could be an excerpt from an unknown work by Fellini; as if crazy Volpina from Amarcord might wander unto the family lunch and go quite unnoticed. Sorrentino sits his audience at that family table, and invites you to love them as unreservedly as he does when seen through the eyes of his luminous teenage avatar, Fabietto Schiso.
Unfettered by the constraints of any formal narrative, this grand memoire of a film achieves a gritty magical-lyricism from its opening sequence; a languid but purposeful helicopter shot sweeping across the Bay of Naples, finally settling on the stately progress of a vintage limousine carrying none other than the earthly embodiment of San Stefano himself en route to perform a miracle.
Sorrentino never let’s go of that heightened sense of wonder until the films’ closing, where the great rites of passage we’ve been invited to share hit home as deeply as if they’d been our own tarnished, yet golden, gioventù in Napoli. — Marten Rabarts
“Appropriately erratic and transcendent in equal measure, The Hand of God might be shot with uncharacteristic restraint by Sorrentino’s baroque standards, but its relative calm allows him to crystallize a truth that was sometimes lost amid the chaos of his more circus-like epics: Heaven and hell are very real places that co-exist right here on Earth, often on top of and inside each other so completely that people can lose sight of where they are if they forget to close their eyes and imagine they’re somewhere else.” — David Ehrlich, Indiewire
“I’m glad that Sorrentino has got this film out of his system. I’m impressed that it’s emerged so full of bawdy vigour; still raw in the retelling and spiced with delicious set pieces. Is it redundant to worry that he’s too close to the material? His account of adolescence at times feels adolescent itself, replete with garish caricatures and crude sexual politics. It’s a story that Sorrentino has spun around real events, a creative response to disaster, with himself at the centre and everybody else in his orbit. He’s crawled through the mire. He’s survived and he’s prospered. He now gets to print his own legend 10-foot high on the screen.” — Xan Brooks, The Guardian