Italy’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards, “The Hand of God,” tells the story of a boy in the tumultuous city of Naples in the 1980s. For Oscar-winning director, writer and producer, Paolo Sorrentino, it’s a personal tale of fate and family, sports and cinema, love and loss. It is also the semi-autobiographical story of the filmmaker’s carefree childhood that was uprooted by the sudden loss of his parents.
“The movie is very close to reality,” Sorrentino says of the film mirroring his own life. “The feelings are fully authentic. I decided to tell this story now because, since I turned 50, I decided the time has come to take stock. There was the right distance to be able to tackle [the story], without too much rhetoric, such personal and private issues.”
Although the film is based on Sorrentino’s own experiences, the main character is named Fabietto Schisa (Filippo Scotti). Although Fabietto must ultimately face the tragic death of his parents, much of the story revolves around quirky family members, neighbors and the teenager’s love of soccer. Sorrentino says the comedy within the film flowed naturally.
“It is the way life works,” he admits when discussing how one masks tragedy with laughter. “At least the way my life worked. I came from a family that was very joyful. As a teenager I was very carefree. Sometimes, the way life is, this carefree youth comes to an end. That’s why the movie is divided in two parts. The first part is joyful and the second part is pervaded by drama.”
The large ensemble cast interacts in many scenes throughout the film, but Sorrentino admits he purposely shot them with little rehearsal. “I didn’t prepare very much to shoot those scenes,” he explains. “I preferred to grasp the actors’ spontaneity. I put the camera on the actors time after time and I let them be spontaneous. I didn’t want the actors to follow the camera. I followed the actors.”
One of the most uplifting moments for Fabietto is when soccer great Diego Maradona joins the local team. This was a particularly fond memory Sorrentino had of his own childhood that he wanted to show in the film. “Soccer, for us Italians, is what allows us to be in the world,” he says. “It’s one of the opportunities that life offers you, to play, in a serious way. In this way, soccer is very similar to cinema for me. It is a game that must be handled with a very serious attitude. For me, soccer was the premise that allowed me to get to cinema.”
Sorrentino took home the Oscar for Best International Feature Film for “The Great Beauty” (2013). “The Hand of God” won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Young Actor (Scotti) at the Venice Film Festival in 2021.
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