The Hand of God

The Hand of God ★★★★

It would be accurate to say that Paolo Sorrentino’s work explores the relationship between the sacred and the profane, but such tepid wording fails to capture the orgiastic maximalism of “The Great Beauty,” speak to the sexed up sacrilege of “The New Pope,” or summon the I didn’t even see it because a Sorrentino movie about Silvio Berlusconi just sounded way too exhausting-ness of “Loro.” Calling “Il Divo” a film about a crooked politician would be like calling “8 ½” a film about writer’s block: Right enough, and yet oh so wrong. In Sorrentino’s world, the sacred and the profane don’t just rub together or intertwine so much as they dry hump each other — with eternal vigor — until we so lose track of where one ends and the other begins that we stop trying to figure it out. For better or worse, his cinema is the work of someone who knows that life isn’t neatly divided into the holy and the heretical, miracles and tragedies.

Now, Sorrentino revisits the summer when he learned that lesson the hard way, as the famed stylist churns his memories into a soberingly autobiographical coming-of-age story about a Neopolitan teenager whose entire world is lost and redeemed in almost the same breath. Appropriately erratic and transcendent in equal measure, “The Hand of God” might be shot with uncharacteristic restraint by Sorrentino’s baroque standards, but its relative calm allows him to crystallize a truth that was sometimes lost amid the chaos of his more circus-like epics: Heaven and hell are very real places that co-exist right here on Earth, often on top of and inside each other so completely that people can lose sight of where they are if they forget to close their eyes and imagine they’re somewhere else.

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