It’s resonated ever since that moment in 1986 when Maradona put an end to England’s World Cup dreams with what the grainy replay showed was a handball. His subsequent description just added insult to injury and even football non-fans, myself included, have never forgotten it. That it took place just four years after the Falklands War, when Argentina invaded the British territory in the South Atlantic, gave it an added political piquancy.
Two years before that legendary quarter final, he moved to Napoli and his reception from the fans was rapturous, closer to idolatry when he not only lifted the World Cup trophy but also helped steer the side to a European championship. That adulation is part of the backdrop to Paulo Sorrentino’s The Hand Of God, a personal, sun soaked coming of age story which looks back to the childhood experiences which shaped his life. The first half concentrates on Fabietto’s (Filippo Scotti) early teenage years in the chaotic Italian city, where he stares longingly at women, where everything is vividly coloured, and where the banter among his family is non-stop. Not a great deal actually happens and that’s as it should be: the director submerges himself and the audience in blissfully happy, almost idyllic, memories.
But this is a film, to use another footballing phrase, of two halves and it all changes shockingly quickly: the colours turn to shadows and Fabietto has to grow up unexpectedly quickly and learn invaluable life lessons from an eclectic, sometimes eccentric, collection of potential role models. The football background doesn’t go away, but the backdrop changes to show a Naples with other intense passions – culture and, more specifically, film making. It’s a sentimental education, one that clearly belongs to Sorrentino but which also begs the inevitable question about the reliability of memory. In this instance, the glowing colours and warmth in the character portrayals betray the blurring of the lines between fact and reminiscence, but speculating about the truth of the story is part of the pleasure that goes with watching the film.
It’s hard not to be charmed by the energy and sheer exuberance with which he tells his personal coming tale, even if it is tempered by a certain objectification of women. This applies especially to Fabietto’s statuesque Aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri) who stuns everybody into silence with her love of nude sunbathing. It makes at times for a very masculine story, even though it’s evident that the real power in the family comes from the women. Yet it doesn’t eradicate the positive aspects of the film and the endearing simplicity with which it tells both halves of the story. “I want an imaginary life, like the one I had before,” Fabietto admits in its latter stages, and that’s exactly what he gives us on screen. What the future holds for him is another story entirely.
Drama | Cert: 15 | Netflix, 15 December 2021 | Dir. Paolo Sorrentino| Filippo Scotti, Tony Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Luisa Ranieri.