November 19, 2021 – Not being a soccer fan, I had not heard of “The Hand of God” in connection with soccer legend Diego Maradona, until I looked it up. It has a double meaning in this Italian coming of age movie, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, about a young soccer fan, set in Napoli, and based on Sorrentino's own life.
Teenaged soccer (football) fan, Fabietto Schisa (played by Filippo Scotti) talks theory with his older brother, Marchino (Marlon Joubert), in their shared bedroom. Marchino asks Fabietto “If you had to choose between Maradona coming to Napoli or screwing aunt Patrizia which would you choose.” The very voluptuous Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) had been sunbathing in the nude earlier that day and an aroused Fabietto had seen her up close. Even so, Fabietto quickly replies, “Maradona.”
Maradona, the greatest player in the world, moved to Napoli from Barcelona in 1984 (for a record-setting transfer fee of over six million pounds) causing a sensation in Italy. This caused Fabietto and other football-obsessed fans to become even more obsessed with the games. The other thing that occupies his thoughts is cinema. He wants to become a director.
Fabietto, an introvert, navigates family turmoil, along with puberty. His father, Saverio (Toni Servillo of “The Great Beauty”) a funny, cynical communist banker, cheats on his wife, Maria (Teresa Saponangelo) causing loud fights. Loud fights also erupt between Patrizia and her husband. At one point Patrizia calls for help after being hit by her husband, and Fabietto, Saverio and Maria all race over on a motor scooter to break up the fight.
Maria is also a juggler and trickster. She likes to play practical jokes on people, and some of these jokes are pretty extreme. Her penchant for practical jokes is also a factor in a pivotal event in the story. Fabietto's brother, Marchino, handsome and outgoing, wants to be an actor. His sister, Daniela Schisa (Rossella Di Lucca) on the other hand, almost never leaves the bathroom.
Big gatherings of family, friends and neighbors highlight a number of odd characters, from the haughty Baroness upstairs (played by Betti Pedrazzi) to the equally haughty neighbor that Saverio likes to make fun of, Signora Gentile (Dora Romano). Both women end up saying and doing things in this movie that are quite surprising. There is also a sudden tragedy in this story which is also quite unexpected. Perhaps this is due to the story being based on real life, and not a work of fiction.
Following the tragedy, Fabietto is even more withdrawn from the world than he was before. Even the sight of Maradona scoring goals for his Napoli team is not enough to bring him out of his shell. He emerges slowly, first with a sexual awakening, followed by striking up a friendship with smuggler Armando (Biagio Manna) and then a tumultuous meeting with Italian film director Antonio Capuano (Ciro Capano) who challenges Fabietto's ideas about both filmmaking and living his life.
As indicated earlier, “Hand of God” has two meanings in the film, both related to football star Diego Maradona. Fabietto, who likes skiing, stayed home to watch Maradona play rather than going on a trip to the mountains that turned tragic. Afterwards, it was said that his life was saved by The Hand of God. This same phrase was coined by Maradona himself to describe his own hand-aided goal during World Cup match on June, 22, 1986 in Mexico City. The goal should not have counted, but game officials did not see the infraction, and it proved to be the deciding goal in the game.
While this is a good film, with some well-drawn characters, it lacks the cohesiveness of some of Sorrentino's earlier films, such as “The Great Beauty” (2013). It certainly achieves its goal of portraying a character who is an observer, rather than being proactive. This passivity pervades the film, which requires much of Filippo Scotti to somehow register the appropriate reactions to many events. Scotti is up to the challenge, playing this low-key character.
There are certain disadvantages in making a film which revolves around such a passive, subdued character. At some point, Sorrentino found his voice and started actually doing the things it takes to become a top writer and film director, but this film ends before it gets to that. This film rates a B.
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