Paolo Sorrentino won 2013’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for the appropriately titled La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), a dazzling drama about a writer and socialite in Rome entering the final act of his privileged life. He’s in a strong position to claim the award a second time for this year’s The Hand Of God, which takes place in Naples and concerns an artist in the first act, rather than the final act, of his life.
The Hand Of God is a coming-of-age story of sorts, but not one that’s concerned with youthful romance or teenage troublemaking. Fabietto has unconventional friendships and an eyebrow-raising sexual dalliance, along with other misadventures, but ultimately, it’s the story of a boy becoming not just a man, but an artist, semi-autobiographically rooted in Sorrentino’s own teenage years in Naples.
The film’s title is a reference to Fabietto’s boyish obsession with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, who played in Naples in the late 1980s and early 90s. Filippo Scotti, the young actor who plays Fabietto, has been called “the Italian Timothée Chalamet.” His looks, along with The Hand Of God‘s 80s period setting and lush Italian scenery, may be reminiscent of Call Me By Your Name on a surface level, but Sorrentino’s story is bigger and grander, turning Fabietto’s teenage angst into something operatic and occasionally absurd — and borderline surreal, in moments, as Sorrentino’s offbeat flourishes lend a touch of the bizarre to an otherwise grounded tale.
The Hand Of God is as beautiful to behold as The Great Beauty, once again evoking the artful visual style of Italy’s previous King of the Oscars, Federico Fellini, without ever feeling like a mere copycat. The film is also hilarious, surprising, and deeply moving — a film so good I refuse to review it any further, because saying anything more risks spoiling the experience. I saw The Hand Of God last month knowing next to nothing about it, and that’s how I recommend watching it. And even though it’ll be streaming on Netflix in December, my other recommendation is to see it on the big screen, if possible.
2021 is gearing up to be a particularly strong year for foreign language films. The Academy’s Best International Feature race has a crop of high profile and well received contenders including Memoria, Lamb, Hive, Drive My Car, I’m Your Man, Titane, Flee, and The Worst Person In The World vying for the big prize. Asghar Farhadi could win his third Oscar in this category for Iran’s A Hero. And that’s not to mention a handful of foreign language films that weren’t selected to represent their homelands, like Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers and Celine Sciamma’s Petit Maman, that could still show up elsewhere this awards season.
Some of these films are already amongst my favorites of 2021, but I’m fairly certainly The Hand Of God is the one I’ll be rooting for. Kenneth Branagh’s English-language Belfast is one of this year’s most formidable frontrunners in most major categories, including Best Picture. The Hand Of God is also an auteur’s memoir piece that celebrates cinema, though it does so in a much less forced and obvious way. If it were in English, I suspect The Hand Of God would be the film at the top of everybody’s Oscar predictions lists.
But never mind all that. The Hand Of God is, hands down, one of the best films of the year, delivering on just about everything a movie can offer.