There are memories that with the passage of time seem invented. In the recreation of Paolo Sorrentino’s adolescence, his great Neapolitan family is strident and full of caricatured characters, he is in love with the voluptuous Aunt Patrizia and a match by Maradona saved him from dying in the gas leak that ended his life of his two parents. The difference is that none of this is fiction. The 51-year-old Sorrentino undresses his me from 16 in The Hand of God, the new film from the director of The great beauty and The Young Pope.
Fellini used to say that cinema is useless. It just distracts us from reality. Perhaps that is why the Italian has recounted the most traumatic year of his life with a lot of humor and excess. The figure of the father revives from the hand of Toni Servillo, his inseparable companion. “It was an act of reciprocal love,” Sorrentino reveals in a hotel room in San Sebastián. But also trustworthy, because the actor did not receive any information about the man he was going to play. “I was not able to explain who my father was, so he made it up and the result is great,” admits the filmmaker.
“I run the risk that people do not give a damn about my life or what I am telling them. But I still think that I am brave in my cinema,” he says, although he admits that it is the film that has cost him the least to write. “Unlike others in which I did not know what to invent, this one has been easy, because to some extent I was getting stuck in my own style,” he says. Regarding facing his own pain, he defines it as “necessary”: “I have been talking about my loss for 35 years and I needed to stop doing it.”
While the memory of his mother is vivid and appears on the tape as the typical mamma Italian, who plays pranks on everyone and spends the day in the kitchen, the figure of the father “is mysterious.” But neither one nor the other are the protagonists of the film. That role is reserved for Maradona, the God to whom all Neapolitans prayed in the 1980s. Asif Kapadia’s documentary already narrated this stage brilliantly from the point of view of the Argentine footballer. Now Sorrentino tells him from the stands as one of those kids whose life changed with the arrival of his idol. And it was even saved (literally).
Religious references are not accidental. It is the theme that runs through the director’s work and the figure of Maradona is perfect to include in that imaginary. “He didn’t arrive in Naples, he appeared. He materialized. There were no photos of Maradona landing on the plane like the rest of the players. The first time I saw him with my own eyes, he emerged from a grotto in the state of São Paulo, like Jesus. We hadn’t seen anything like this. When Maradona wanted to escape the pressure of the Neapolitan fans, he drove around the city in a very small car, in a Panda, when he could have done it in a Mercedes. He too died and resurfaced. There are many similarities between Maradona and El Divino “, he remembers.
It is not only a sports question, but a political one. “Naples was a city with many problems and with enormous difficulties: it had suffered a huge earthquake and the Camorra and the mafia dominated the city. It was a very dangerous metropolis,” explains Sorrentino. “The arrival of Maradona gave us back the joy of life, hope and freedom. It blew up that layer of suffocation that surrounded the city. The historical moment of Maradona’s arrival was like that of the North Americans after the Second World War: liberating for the people “, compares the director.
Like the Sun, Maradona is the only star capable of setting himself after his sunset and eclipsing his darkest past, which in this case coincides with his time in the South Boot team. The “best footballer in history” was forgiven for everything in Italy, including his relationship with the Neapolitan mafia, his adulteries and his taste for drugs. “It is something almost religious. Jesus Christ lived with all his weaknesses and Maradona also. The God that I love is close and has imperfections because he looks like all of us. And Maradona is very similar to that god,” he justifies again.
He reveals that his death affected him a lot because he made “this movie for him to see.” “I am very sorry not to have arrived on time.” After all, seeing Maradona was the only reason why that year he did not accompany his parents on the fatal journey from which they did not return. “It was the hand of God,” his grandfather tells him in the film. That phrase and that gesture have become the germ of the film and the reason why his friends insisted that he should tell it.
But the film is not about Maradona but about Fabietto, the teenager that Paolo once was. He has not needed to give him any special traits because he is a middle-class boy from Naples like any other and because the interesting thing is that we see everything through his eyes. “Why do you stand there looking? Because it’s the only thing I know how to do,” sums up the character.
Fabietto adores Maradona, listens to his mother, plays soccer, is always glued to his Walkman and is fascinated by attractive women. And the latter has been the controversial point of the film.
The female body is shown and analyzed in atypical circumstances, especially through the character of Aunt Patrizia, voluptuous and spectacular like a kind of Sophia Loren. In one scene the woman is sitting on the edge of the bed and the strap of her dress falls below her chest in front of the lascivious gaze of Fabietto and his father. In another, she sunbathes completely naked on the deck of the ship in which the entire Neapolitan family travels, which reacts dumbfounded. In Sorrentino’s story, she is the untouchable figure that awakens the adolescent’s sexual desire for the first time.
“This film is set in the 80s and that was the culture that existed regarding the female body. I have felt free to represent what was accepted in those years,” the director replies. Regarding the controversy, she believes that “society is greatly conditioning the freedom of the artist” and that feminism “as always happens with all large social movements, contribute very positive things but then have small details that can limit freedom”.
It was the hand of God will arrive on Netflix next Christmas. It is the filmmaker’s first contact with his native Naples, but he promises that it will not be the last.