Rated R for pretty intense nudity and sexuality. Like, there's nothing subtle about this movie. A man abuses his wife because he believes that she's sleeping around. The sex scene is something very uncomfortable. There's a pretty intense death scene. It's just got a lot. R.
DIRECTOR: Paolo Sorrentino
See, I really wanted to write about this one before the Academy Awards. This one was special. Maybe it was because it was such a surprise, but The Hand of God is, as my wife calls it, "A movie person's movie." She's right. The film is about the cinematic experience. We don't often just get movies for their visual quality. Yes, the film is fundamentally narrative. I could be forced to give you the plot of this story if I had to. But the experience is more of the lyrical nature. This is a movie about experiencing emotion through the beauty of Italy while experiencing aggressive, aggressive growing pains.
Fabietto summer is particularly a rough one. Sorrentino build's Fabietto's Italy almost with the Italian version of Rockwellian candor. This is the Italy that we all call home, even if your background is violently Eastern European. This is beyond the Olive Garden Italy. This is the Italy of Rosselini and de Sica. It is about sitting outside in a Tuscan villa as your large and overbearing grandmother masticates upon raw mozzarella, juices dripping down her stray beard hairs. If you think I'm being hyperbolic, I assure you that I'm just describing the scene that actually happens. It's visceral. Everything in the first half of the movie is visceral. We made the mistake of watching it in two shifts. (If we didn't split up movies, we wouldn't be able to watch as many of the movies as we did before the Oscars.) In splitting it up, we didn't realize that this movie would actually have a story to follow, let alone a protagonist. Rather, it seemed to be about Italy and Italians. Because one of the main characters is unhinged also through a wrench into the works. Honestly, I didn't realize that Patrizia wasn't the main character for a long time, let alone that everything we were experiencing from her perspective was a hallucination. I went around telling my in-laws about this weird little monk who made people fertile because Sorrentino pulled a fast one.
But what makes The Hand of God something next level is the tonal shift that happens about midway through the film. In this almost genre shift that the movie takes, it reminds me a bit of Parasite. Yeah, it never goes to horror. But it does go from a very whimsical look at the quirkiness of Italians to the roots of bildungsroman. When Fabietto's parents die, we realize how earnest this story really was. Because with the comedy, as much as I loved it, it wasn't vulnerable. Fabietto almost was Napoleon Dynamite played by an Italian Timothee Chalamet. But then, with the death of Fabietto's parents, he becomes this very real kid. He's not cool like other movies make teenagers out to be. This is a kid who has zero answers to life and he has to keep his head above water. And like the rest of us, he's really good at faking it. But the film quickly turns into this quest about the search for the self. In the case of The Hand of God, there's a little bit of a countdown to it. He's at this age where he could take care of himself, but he wasn't supposed to be thrown into adulthood so hard. We never see Fabietto find a career or purpose. But that future out there is hovering, stalking him as he deals with finding himself out. When the movie proves to be semi-autobiographical, it's the little things that end up demonstrating value.
Regardless of its verisimilitude, the cinema scenes would have worked. But there's something even more vulnerable about Fabietto discovering how movies are made. If we mentally stick Sorrentino in the role of Fabietto, which we absolutely should, these little moments take on value. Sorrentino, because he was there, gives us the complete experience of following around a mentor for an entire night and jumping into water. He allows me, a non-sports fan, to appreciate the signing of Maradona to a sports team that I have no affiliation to. Sorrentino makes this world larger than life, but also completely relatable. Tragedy can strike and yet, these little moments remind us that life is still worth living. It's odd because the major tragedy in the story is never balanced out with an equal major success. Someone out there is arguing with their screen with indignation.
I'll just address it. "What about when Fabietto loses his virginity to a significantly older lady who completes the act that borders on rape?" There's something very sad about the scene. While I ruminated on this film, I wondered what I would say about this scene. The scene isn't outright tragic. To call it that would be inviting my own prejudices and morality into a scene that might not necessarily be calling for that. Alternately, while Fabietto grins after the fact with his brother, it isn't an outright win for the boy either. Instead, this scene is meant to be conflicted. Sorrentino establishes that the woman is taking advantage of a grieving teenager. She knows that he is not over there for sexual reasons, but rather altruistic reasons. When she tells him to perform sexual acts upon her, I don't think that Fabietto ever appears to be more of an innocent. There's an automaton quality to him. He is at war with his hormones and the destruction of cultural norms. There is no relationship between the two. The woman tells him to imagine his most taboo relationship while performing the act, distancing the two. These two people are not getting the same effect out this scene. Yet, this is one of the moments that gets him out of his funk. It is almost like biting down on your tongue to break a cramp. It may not be what he wanted, but it forced him to refocus his trauma into something that he could deal with.
I love vulnerability, guys. This is a vulnerable movie. It is so uncomfortable, yet honest. Sure, some of the world is larger than life, but that could also be how Sorrentino viewed his adolescence. But even if you break down all of the psycho mumbo-jumbo, it's a gorgeous and heartfelt film. My wife is right. It is a movie person's movie. It's just so beautifully crafted and does the job that it was meant to do. This was one of the better pulls from the Oscars this year.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.