Newcomer Filippo Scotti carries Paolo Sorrentino’s next movie.
I’m told Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God” is a personal film for this acclaimed Italian filmmaker and based in the story on his own childhood experiences. That’s twice this fall I’ve seen a movie where a filmmaker uses his own life as inspiration, after Kenneth Branagh’s marvelous return to form in “Belfast.”
It doesn’t get the kind of story treatment that “Belfast” got or another dazzling Italian masterpiece “Call Me By Your Name,” but it does allow its young main actor Fillippo Scotti to carry the film with his emotions and tone, while introducing us to some fabulous characters. They can either move you, tickle you, or infuriate you, depending on how they deal with their own manners and situations, and that also keeps you involved.
The story is set in Naples in the 80s. We meet young Fabietto or Fabie for short (Scotti), whose banker father Saverio (Toni Servillo) manages to score him season tickets for the World Cup with Diego Maradona being the soccer legend. He skips out on a ski trip with his folks, who suddenly die from carbon monoxide poisoning. In a way, he feels Diego saved his life, but in another, he feels destroyed.
The movie also shows us a variety of supporting characters. There’s his Aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri), whom he finds attractive and believes her when she had to kiss a small monk for good luck. She also suffered abuse from her husband (Massimiliano Gallo) and her behavior got her sent to a mental hospital.
He also befriends the cigarette smuggler Maurizio (Roberto Oliveri), whom he witnesses in a police pursuit, and is impressed by his skills. They spend some time together, but not for long.
And his two siblings have their own aspects. His brother Marchino (Marlon Joubert) is a would-be actor, who starts to think of other career ideas, while his sister Daniela (Rossella Di Lucca) is always in the bathroom. Why? I don’t know.
It took me a while to warm up to the characters and narrative, but I was able to praise their features, like when a grouchy old lady named Baronessa Focale (Betti Pedrazzi) criticizes her people for letting her son get arrested while watching a soccer game, and then getting beaten up by a little girl’s bike. That’s a great shot, and another would be when Patrizia enters a house and sees a fallen chandelier. As a matter of fact, Sorrentino directs and cinematographer Daria D’Antonio photographs those scenes with a certain kind of ambiance.
And the ending when the main protagonist meets the filmmaker of his dreams is set with a mean streak and charisma that makes us wonder if he’ll follow in his footsteps. But then again, Sorrentino based the movie on his own childhood, so maybe.
Scotti is just as good as Timothee Chalamet was in “Call Me By Your Name,” because of how he eases into his character’s tone and nature. He isn’t gay and he isn’t spoiled, but rather, he’s juts trying to figure out what he wants out of life, given his own tragic circumstances. Servillo reunites with Sorrentino from “The Great Beauty” with the right kind of vibe that made him so delightful in that film. And among the supporting cast, Joubert cuts back on the movie older brother cliches with heart, Pedrazzi is outrageous and fearless, Oliveri has a fresh small role, and Ranieri is delicious and provocative.
“The Hand of God” is a movie that loves life and questions where its choice of characters will head into, even if we don’t always get their full analysis. But then again, life isn’t always a screenplay. This one requires red wine.
Opens Tomorrow in Select Theaters
Streaming on Netflix December 15
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