Writer-Director Paolo Sorrentino has credited Diego Maradona for inspiring him, and in his semi-autobiographical The Hand of God, we discover that Sorrentino’s fandom saved his life. But this is not really a soccer movie.
È stata la mano di Dio, or literally, “It was the hand of God” was meant to be a double-entendre on Maradona’s infamous goal as well as divine intervention in Sorrentino’s life. As a 16 year old, Sorrentino skipped going to his parents’ new Alpine apartment rather than miss a Napoli home game starring Maradona. Both of his parents passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning in the apartment, perhaps at the fault of the very fireplace that his mother had always desired.
The first half of the film enacts many stories within the family of Sorrentino’s alter ego Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), and we experience them much the same way as young Fabietto. He is an acute observer of life. He has no friends and ensures his isolation by wearing headphones all the time. But his family is large, with almost every relative but his father exhibiting some form of slightly off, misguided, or crazy behavior.
The second half of the film shows how the family changes after his parents’ death, perhaps because the balance is gone. We never see the extended family together again, and some of the members suffer the consequences of how they’ve lived. After all, “Reality is lousy“. Fabietto must grow up and find his purpose.
Many reviewers proclaim the film another masterpiece for the Oscar-winning director, perhaps for its striking cinematography and indecipherable situations. Where most directors would take 2 seconds to show an action, Sorrentino takes 10 or even 20. I imagine it would be like watching Da Vinci paint. Despite that, I really cannot suggest that anyone watch this film, and it is not because of its style.
While much of the film is visually engaging, I found many scenes distasteful and the film demeaning of females of every age. In a sense, Sorrentino’s movie is like the degradation of Rome’s monuments and architecture (il degrado di Roma).
- The auntie, after whom Fabietto and his brother lust, is a woman with a goddess-like figure who is maybe still working as a whore. She exposes her breast to her male relatives and sunbathes nude in front of the entire extended family while they are all sitting in a large boat.
- Fabietto surrenders his virginity to an aged widowed Baroness living above his apartment. She seduces him in order to give him hope about the future. But Fabietto goes along because his father had told him to work at having his first sexual experience, even if it were with a dog. The story seems to imply that an old woman is better than a dog.
- The sour matriarch of the family is beaten by her in-laws while her 8 year old granddaughter cheers them on.
- We never see Fabietto’s sister until the very end of the film, as she spends all her time in the bathroom.
- Fabietto’s mother is the closest to a sane woman, although she goes into a frenzy at her husband’s long-standing repeated infidelity. She enjoys playing destructive pranks, such as destroying a neighbor’s hope or almost triggering her husband’s heart attack. I wondered if her own carbon monoxide poisoning might be her last prank on her cheating husband.
- During a theater performance, a young actress who Fabietto has admired from afar, is yelled at and criticized by a famous local film director. She runs off stage, and you expect Fabietto to try and comfort her. Instead, he runs after the director to express admiration for the courage to openly protest a play while it is being performed.
These scenes must have seemed harmless to Sorrentino. But after #MeToo, so many degrading interpretations of women are out of touch. Filmmakers should no longer be normalizing such disturbing depictions. How can you celebrate women when you treat them so poorly? It is as bad as the behavior of the now-resigned Spanish Federation President Luis Rubiales.
The film has a side story about the arrival of Maradona to play for Napoli. One of the threads that ties the men of Fabietto’s family together is Napoli matches, which they enjoy by watching on small TVs. Fabietto’s father gives him a season ticket, and he attends games alone. Sorrentino shows the city’s joy of celebration when Napoli wins the Serie A.
The only other football is primarily seen when a mass of boys play on Fabietto’s school playground, while he stands in the middle of the crowd with his headphones on. Football sets the context for Fabietto’s family life but not much more.
4 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 4