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No country in the world has birthed more winners of the best international feature Oscar — formerly the best foreign language film Oscar — than Italy, with 14. However, all but one of those wins happened many years ago. Indeed, in the 21st century, Italy’s only win in the category came eight years ago, with Paolo Sorrentino‘s The Great Beauty. In the time since, this great hub of cinema has failed to even make the shortlist for the award, to say nothing of landing a nomination.
This is not because Italy has ceased making great films. It’s largely because the process of selecting an Oscar submission is, like most things in the nation, highly political, I’m told by sources close to the process. If Italy wants to please local interests, it can continue to make its picks that way. But if it wants to get back to the Oscars, perhaps it’s time to turn again to the maestro who last got them there, Sorrentino, whose latest film, The Hand of God, had its world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival en route to its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival over the past week.
Sorrentino’s largely autobiographical film centers on a young man (Filippo Scotti) coming of age in 1980s Naples, with his thoughts dominated by his family, sex and soccer. It blends comedy and tragedy, while beautifully showcasing the city in a way that no amount of advertising ever could, and revealing more about its filmmaker than most of us had previously known.
Granted, The Hand of God is not the only Italian film that has an international profile this year: Nanni Moretti‘s Three Floors premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and Jonas Carpignano‘s A Chiara, which Neon is handling in the U.S., screened as part of that fest’s Directors Fortnight, while Damiano D’Innocenzo and Fabio D’Innocenzo‘s America Latina and Gabriele Mainetti‘s Freaks Out are both being unveiled in competition at the ongoing Venice Film Festival. It’s also not the best reviewed (at 77% on Rotten Tomatoes).
But it has fierce champions, including The Hollywood Reporter‘s chief film critic David Rooney, who described it in his review as “richer, deeper, more searingly poignant than anything the director has done before.” It has a filmmaker with an international name and reputation, which is a big part of luring Academy members to check out a film. And it has Netflix behind it, which means that it will receive not only as vigorous an awards campaign as is possible, but also that — regardless of what happens with the Oscar race — it will be seen all around the world.
The Hand of God will be released theatrically in Italy on Nov. 24 en route to a Dec. 15 worldwide debut on the streaming service (which also released last year’s Sophia Loren vehicle The Life Ahead, which probably would have been an Oscar nominee had Italy submitted it).
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