The Hand of God (È stata la mano di Dio) is a two-part story. The first half is funny and rich in eccentric and delightful characters. The second half is tragic and decidedly downbeat. Normally it is not a good idea to combine two such distinctly different moods, but The Hand of God is written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, who won an Academy Award in 2014 for The Great Beauty. And it is, after all, based on Sorrentino’s own life growing up in Naples in the mid-1980s. If this sounds a bit like Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical Roma, which won the Academy Award for Best international Film in 2019, Sorrentino has not hesitated to acknowledge that he was inspired by Cuarón.

Teenager Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) comes from a wealthy family with loving parents and a Fellini-like cast of relatives and friends. His mother (Teresa Saponangelo) juggles and plays practical jokes. His father, played by the always reliable Toni Servillo, is witty and good-humored. Fabietto’s older brother, would-be actor Marchino, (Marlon Joubert) is there when Fabietto needs him. Then there’s foul-mouthed old Signora Gentile and Aunt Patrizio, who is emotionally disturbed and whose tendency to appear nude in front of everyone makes her the object of Fabietto’s virginal lust. And there are many, many more. Who wouldn’t want to spend the day at a gathering of this wonderful extended family?

But then something truly terrible happens. [Spoiler warning.] When Fabietto is 16 years old, his parents die as a result of an accidental carbon monoxide leak in their new country home, which is exactly what happened to Sorrentino’s parents. For the rest of the story, Fabietto grapples with his inability to deal with his grief and anger and his need to find a way to move on with his life. It’s not pretty, but, once again, it’s Sorrentino’s life.

The title. For those who are not familiar with football (soccer) history, it refers to a famous incident at the 1986 World Cup when Diego Maradona illegally used his hand to score a goal against England. When asked about it, Maradona said the goal was scored by “the hand of God.”

Paolo Sorrentino was a great admirer of Maradona and even thanked him during has 2014 Oscar acceptance speech. Maradona plays an important indirect role in The Hand of God. Fabietto is a huge soccer fan. Like most of Naples, he can hardly believe it when, in 1984, Maradona joins the Napoli team. For a city looked down upon by northern Italians, his arrival is a dream come true. In the film, on the evening of his parents’ death, Fabietto stays behind in Naples to attend a match featuring Maradona. And the term “The Hand of God” takes on a personal meaning.