The Hand of God – A Portrait of The Filmmaker as a Young Man
Total Film|December 2021
When football star Diego Maradona joined Napoli, it was a joyous time for the young Paolo Sorrentino. Some 37 years on, it has inspired his latest film, The Hand Of God, a beguiling look at the traumas and triumphs of his teens. Total Film joins him and his stars for a trip down memory lane.
James Mottram

In 1984, Diego Maradona left Barcelona. The Argentinian footballing genius had endured a difficult time at the Spanish club, and eyebrows were raised when he made his next move: Napoli. The Italian team were no big shots like Juventus or AC Milan. Rumours spread around the city that Maradona was coming, but no one could quite believe it. Until it happened. “He was something unbelievable for our season,” remembers Paolo Sorrentino. “For the first time arrived something that was joy.”

The Italian director of the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty and Il Divo was just 14 years old when Maradona fever swept his home city of Naples in July of that year. “He was definitely a symbol of hope for people, for the city,” says Sorrentino, puffing away on a small cigar as Total Film sits with him on a damp balcony in London’s Corinthia Hotel. Over the next few seasons, Maradona would deliver on that hope, winning Napoli its first ever Serie A title and becoming an instant icon.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time until Sorrentino would revisit these halcyon days for what is easily his most personal film yet: The Hand Of God. “I was always very shy about this movie,” he admits. “I had [it] in my mind for many years. Actually, I had many notes… but I was afraid to write.” It’s understandable. While Maradona’s exuberant arrival creates a backbone for the film’s first act, The Hand Of God is about so much more: religion, sexual awakening, family, filmmaking, and even tragedy.

It was only when Sorrentino saw Alfonso Cuarón’s autofiction Roma that he felt ready to explore his past. “I was overwhelmed by that movie. It was an enlightenment – how to write, how to develop a personal story, and how to describe private things in a movie. That movie was a textbook.” He even wrote to Cuarón after seeing his film.

Wisely, Sorrentino took a step back in The Hand Of God. The young man at its centre is not called Paolo, but Fabietto. He lives with his parents Saverio and Maria and his older brother Marchino. There is also a sister, never seen, who spends all her time in the bathroom – a wry joke on the director’s part. “My sister was older than me, and [when] she had her first boyfriend… she spent a lot of time in the bathroom [doing her] make-up!”

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