When Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino reached his milestone 50th birthday, he decided the occasion was ripe with the potential to break away from many of the enduring ways he made distinctive, much lauded projects (including Academy Award winner The Great Beauty, Youth, Il Divo, The Consequences of Love and The Young Pope) and experiment with new cinematic and storytelling techniques. And for his next film, The Hand of God, he decided to plumb the depths of his own past as well.
“Why now?” ponders Sorrentino. “I started to look at the past, without being too much involved. So in these past years, I’m able to see into my past with sort of an objective lens, and this is helpful to put in order the things in my life.”
“I had this story I was scared to do because it’s very personal, but because it’s a painful story — even if there is a part of comedy — I thought it was a good idea to share my pain with a potential audience and see if that pain was only about me or also about other people,” Sorrentino says of his autobiographical tale, set in the 1980s amid the scenic but little documented splendors of his native Naples, which he finally returned to for production decades after he left the city.
“It’s the dream of this young man who had a life split in two very precise paths. One was when he was young, around 16, 17, and there was this happy family and light and his life was full of joy,” Sorrentino says of the tale of his screen avatar, young filmmaker-in-the-making Fabietto Schisa, played by Filippo Scotti. “Then after a tragedy – he loses his parents – life will become another thing. So his meeting with the cinema world will be for him a chance to escape the reality.”
By a stroke of fate, the real-world Sorrentino avoided the same fate that befell his parents – who died as the result of a gas leak – because he’d begged and pleaded to attend an away game of the Napoli football club to thrill in the artful play of superstar Diego Maradona, who arrival on the scene united the denizens of Naples and made him an enduringly iconic figure for Sorrentino and his contemporaries.
“Maradona was a key figure for me and many Neapolitans of my generation,” says Sorrentino, who wove how his personal idolization of Maradona fortuitously led him to evade a tragic end into the film’s narrative. “He suddenly arrived in Naples, and he brought an idea of freedom that maybe we in Naples had forgot.”
While the filmmaker hewed closely to his own experiences when crafting the screenplay, once in production he wanted the story to take on a unique life of its own in the hands of a cast and crew he trusted to shepherd his life story. “When I wrote the movie, I took care of my life,” he recalls, “but when I went to shoot, I decided to treat this script like a movie, not like my life.”
The Hand of God debuted at the Venice Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize as well as Best Actor for Scotti. It has since been a perennial on the foreign-film best-of lists with Best Picture noms from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and European Film Awards among others. Netflix released it in theaters in early December and it began streaming there as of December 15.
Click below to read the script in both Italian and in English.