‘Hand of God’ Director Paolo Sorrentino: ‘Being an Oscar Candidate for a Second Time Means the First Time Wasn’t Just a Fluke’

In a new series, Variety catches up with the directors of the films shortlisted for the International Feature Oscar to discuss their road to the awards, what they’ve learned so far, and what’s taken them off guard.

Paolo Sorrentino, who won an international Oscar for “The Great Beauty” in 2014, is back in contention with autobiographical film “The Hand of God,” which marks the director’s return to filmmaking in his native Naples 20 years after his debut, “One Man Up.”

This Netflix Italian original film is the story of a goofy kid named Fabietto who starts harboring a passion for filmmaking in the tumultuous Naples of the late 1980s. As Sorrentino has put it, “it’s a tale of destiny and family, of sport and cinema, love and loss.”

What does it mean to you to be shortlisted for the best international feature Oscar, after already winning this prize once?

It’s a great honor and a great responsibility to represent my country once again. Being a candidate for the second time fills me with joy because it means that the first time wasn’t just a fluke. This second candidacy indicates continuity in my work and a standard that is at the very least dignified.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of your campaign thus far?

The Oscar campaign is very stimulating and fun. But at the same time, it’s tiring and a lot of work. You travel a lot, and change places real fast. The most complicated part this year, alas, has to do with limitations due to the pandemic.

I believe you travelled to the U.S. to support your film. How did it go?

Well. The film is being well received. It sparks curiosity and emotions. And people are laughing, which was one of my simple goals. 

Although you are shortlisted in the international feature category, the best picture category has historically been devoid of non-English language features. “Parasite” (2019) was the first winner in history. Do you feel international films are siloed in U.S. media and film criticism? 

The Oscars are a prize that was born in the U.S. and has grown there. So I think it’s entirely natural that the bulk of the attention goes to English-language films. But of course, not being American, I hope that phenomenons like “Parasite” can happen again. In any event, I think there is quite an ample interest on the part of the U.S. industry and film critics towards foreign films.

Are there ways to improve this process when it comes to awards season? 

Frankly I don’t know how to answer this. It’s a question that should go to those in charge of the awards. I just try to make a good film.

When trying to get “consumer” Western audiences to watch an international feature, there seems to be a focus on the length of a movie. In other words, reviewers often chastise “foreign” films for being too long. But when something like “Avengers: Endgame” gets a three-hour runtime, Marvel fans are ecstatic and say they could go longer if they wanted to.  Do you find that fair?

I can just speak about my own personal experience. “The Great Beauty” was two hours and twenty minutes long, but I never received any criticism regarding its length. “The Hand of God” is two hours and ten minutes, and even in this case I haven’t heard of any particular complaints regarding the length of the film. A film has its necessity, its rhythm, its ampleness and length which reflect these needs. If a film is well made, it can be very long and satisfy anyone.

You are representing your country to an American awards body (although there are voters who are international). How do you feel about being that representative? 

It’s an honor, but also a burden. You never feel fully adequate to represent an entire country.

Are there aspects of “The Hand of God” that critics and audiences in Italy and the U.S. have responded to differently?

Generally speaking, no. However, sometimes certain characters that to us Italians appear realistic can seem unreal or grotesque abroad. But this is totally normal, each one of us only has an in-depth knowledge of their own culture.

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