It might be hoped that the passage of time could give him some fond or melancholy distance from such material, but Sorrentino serves up his memories in an unappealingly inert and flat manner.
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The Hand of God doesn’t always find the clearest way of knotting these various stories together, and the film’s second half — replete with so many highs — also feels like it leaves a number of important characters dangling in the wind.
It’s the work of a director in full command of his gifts, from the kaleidoscopic vignettes of family life that make the first half such a constant delight through the supple modulation of tone midway, when shocking tragedy prompts a shift into a more ruminative mood.
The boisterousness remains, as does the unreconstructed maleness that has often been a jarring mannerism in his work. But new intimacy also yields a lightness and tenderness that are a welcome addition to Sorrentino’s palette.
The Hand of God has some good scenes, but it’s the kind of portrait-of-an-artist drama where you watch the insults, the clashes, the assaultive attitude of it all and you think: Is this what it was actually like for the young Sorrentino growing up in Naples? Or does he simply have an aversion to scenes that don’t hit you over the head
Things in The Hand of God are often funny and sad – all at the same time.
Sorrentino and his cast make these teenage recollections twinge with freshness. Like our own sharpest memories of adolescence, the haze of nostalgia doesn’t dull their edge.
It’s a lovely, charming, vibrant, sad, bildungsroman tale and roman-fleuve that pays small tribute to Maradona. But more importantly, it manages to both memorialize this agonizing turning point in his life and warmly reminisce on the bliss that came before it.
The Hand of God, no surprise, is Sorrentino’s most nakedly personal film to date, almost to a fault in the way it jettisons the cool distance of The Great Beauty or Il Divo in favour of a sweaty, close-up evocation of youth. It’s a picture only Sorrentino could make. But that doesn’t necessarily make him the safest pair of hands.