In his new, semi-autobiographical film The Hand of God, the Italian auteur reflects on a tragedy that still haunts him

In his 20-year career Paolo Sorrentino has orchestrated scenes of indelible virtuosity and grandeur: the pageantry of the pope in the Vatican, poolside orgies where ecstasy pills rain from the sky, a giraffe among Roman ruins, Michael Caine conducting a field of cows. But in his latest, The Hand of God, Sorrentino stages a scene arguably more challenging than any of them, and one that few film-makers could ever contemplate: a reenactment of his own parents’ deaths.

Initially it appears to be a picture of domestic contentment. Sorrentino’s fictionalised parents (played by Toni Servillo and Teresa Saponangelo) are enjoying an evening on the sofa by the fire in their new holiday home, outside Naples. They start to feel tired and peacefully doze off in each other’s arms. It is only afterwards we realise they are being poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty heating system. The 16-year-old Sorrentino was not with them that night. His father had bought him a ticket to see his football team, Napoli, and their sensational new star: Diego Maradona. “He’s the one who saved you!” An uncle tells the young Sorrentino at his parents’ funeral.

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