Naples in the mid-1980s: Diego Maradona has chosen Napoli as the next stop in his career, where the Argentinian player is heralded like the Second Coming of Christ. Directors Fellini and Capuano are shooting films in the city. Teenage Fabietto who lists “seeing” as his number one talent, is inspired by both these facts, and yet family drama and, at a later stage, great misfortune cast a shadow over the boy’s adolescence.
The premise of how specific moments in football tie into personal memories is potent. “Where were you when…”, recollections of goals, of finals, are very often flashbulb memories, seared into a fan’s brain. The power of the game and how it connects people across the board is explored in an absorbing manner. The Hand of God ascertains that football stadiums have become churches – places of pilgrimage and worship.
What a beautiful coming-of-age story this could have been, had Sorrentino not opted to punch below his weight. The script is speckled with overhauled quips at the expense of victims of domestic abuse, the mentally ill and physically disabled. In the misogynist tradition of women being reduced to mothers and whores, apart from the protagonist’s parental figures, the female characters are objectified and serve as meat market for the hormonal teen, no matter their age.
Under the guise of nostalgia, patterns of toxic masculinity are perpetuated, packaged as “rituals” that are passed down. The boy is pressured into losing his virginity by his own father, who in all sincerity gives advice like “do it as soon as you can: with anybody, no matter how ugly”.
The film is inspired by the 51-year old director’s own youth, but one can only hope some of the crudity is figment of his imagination. In any case, for a feature shot in 2020, it is unfathomable that these experiences are painted with so little self-awareness, even if they are set in the past.
A less severe offence, but also slightly detracting from the enjoyment of the movie, is that the stretch of time depicted is not entirely clear to anyone who has no (vidid) memories themselves of the events in question. The action could easily have taken place over one summer or a year, if it weren’t for the fact that Maradona transferred to Napoli in 1984, whereas the infamous hand goal happened at the 1986 World Cup.
The Hand of God is released on Netflix on 15th December 2021.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.