Daria D’Antonio • The Hand Of God
By Natasha Block Hicks
The Hand Of God/È Stata La Mano Di Dio has been described as BAFTA Award-winning director Paolo Sorrentino’s “most personal film yet.” Loosely set in the Naples of the ‘80s, weaving together autobiography and allegory, The Hand Of God follows 17-year-old Fabietto as two significant external forces – the arrival of soccer legend Diego Maradona to play for S.S.C. Napoli, and a cataclysmic family tragedy – propel him out of a Walkman-encompassed teenage inertia towards a painful but liberated young adulthood. We caught up with Italian DP Daria D’Antonio to discuss what The Hand Of God means to her.
“The story is set in a period of time which is also the time of my teenage years,” explains D’Antonio, who was Naples born-and-raised and a contemporary of Sorrentino. “There was a lot of emotional involvement for me, looking back on those years of being a teenager and young adult, when there was this self-discovery and falling in love with cinema.”
“There was a lot of emotional involvement for me, looking back on being a teenager and young adult”
This was D’Antonio’s first time lighting a feature for Sorrentino as principal DP, but the pair had previously collaborated as director and DP on multiple short films, and on the La Fortuna segment of a collective feature entitled Rio, I Love You/Rio, Eu Te Amo (2014). Their relationship does, however, predate D’Antonio’s shift from operator to DP a decade ago. Indeed, D’Antonio and Sorrentino’s first encounter can be traced back to 1998, when Sorrentino was making one of his first films, the short Love Has No Bounds/L’Amore Non Ha Confine (1998, DP Pasquale Mari AIC), on which D’Antonio was a camera assistant at the start of her career.
Regular alliances ensued in the interim years, such as The Consequences Of Love/Le Conseguenze Dell’Amore (2004, DP Luca Bigazzi AIC), Sorrentino orchestrating as writer/director and D’Antonio by then operating, and Napoli 24 (2010), a segmented collaborative documentary on which both their names appear in the writer/director credits.
D’Antonio operated B-camera and was second unit DP on The Great Beauty/La Grande Bellezza (2013, DP Luca Bigazzi AIC), for which Sorrentino collected the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. D’Antonio’s subsequent projects with Sorrentino were to be as principal DP, but it was still six years before they were to collaborate on a full feature film together.
This working relationship, spanning both their careers, has meant that Sorrentino and D’Antonio have developed their own shorthand way of communicating, “a kind of coded language,” as D’Antonio explains.
“In some ways it makes things simpler,” she elaborates, “but with The Hand Of God, sometimes it was more complicated exactly because of this emotional weight, because the movie is set in places which are familiar to me as well.”
The Hand Of God is the first time that Sorrentino had returned to film in Naples since his first feature One Man Up/L’Uomo In Più (2001, DP Pasquale Mari AIC), and it is tempting to imagine that this coming-of-age story might be some kind of filmic homage to the city that raised him, but D’Antonio is careful to point out that The Hand Of God was intended to be a stripped-back film, where unadulterated storytelling was to take centre stage.
“The idea was to use the backdrop of Naples, but to tell a story which could have been set in any other moment in time or in any other place,” D’Antonio explains. “We didn’t want to give it the typical features of the Naples of the ‘80s. There were some specific elements such as the arrival of Maradona, but the city is intended to be described only from an emotional point-of-view, as a setting for the events.”
A book of B&W photographs of Naples, taken by Luciano De Crescenzo, a Naples-born actor, writer, director and engineer, provided a reference point for the depiction of the city.
“They were pictures that he’d taken in the streets of Naples between the ‘70s and ‘80s,” details D’Antonio, “but the look we wanted to give to the movie was not so much committed to the Naples of that period. The inspiration for me also came from listening to the stories that Paolo would tell me, of what he remembered and what I remembered of that time.”
Though promoted as a “film without style”, The Hand Of God nevertheless has an aesthetic of its own.
“The idea for us was to have a palette, which would be very colourful in the first part, when Fabietto is with his family, happy and joyful, enjoying their Sundays in a very carefree manner,” D’Antonio explains. “In the second part, as the events progress, this colour would then slowly fade away.”
D’Antonio and Sorrentino turned to the Red Monstro 8K with a set of ARRI Signature primes, sourced from D-Vision srl, to capture The Hand Of God in full frame.
“I love the Red Monstro 8K camera very much,” enthuses D’Antonio. “We’ve used it many times before in Paolo’s projects and I feel very comfortable working with it. It was a pleasure for us to be able to work within our comfort zone in terms of the camera.”
In contrast to the sweeping opening sequence, where the camera is mounted on a helicopter, and a mid-way Russian Arm set-up following a car racing through the city, on the whole camera movement was utilised sparingly in The Hand Of God, with plenty of static shots and just a few Steadicam and dolly sequences.
“We wanted to make this movie in a much simpler way because we wanted it to be distinct from Paolo’s other movies,” explains D’Antonio, “and to leave room for the emotional storytelling to take the foreground.”
The same was true for the lighting.
“I tended to use natural light or practical lamps,” says D’Antonio, “I rarely added specific lighting, except for instance for a night scene in the square. We changed all of the streetlamps over to sodium-vapour bulbs because now there are LEDs everywhere. And there was a scene in a grotto where I used a light from the bottom, but basically we didn’t change much else.”
Choosing natural light has its own set of challenges, and one of the trickiest scenes from D’Antonio’s perspective came early-on in the movie.
“We shot a large family scene outside over four days,” describes D’Antonio, “and since we shot it in sequence, with four cameras, we did not organise it on the basis of the light. It was quite complicated to keep continuity because we had some weather changes over the four days. But we had to go with what we had.”
Another key scene in the closing chapters of The Hand Of God proved equally challenging, but for reasons that were astronomical rather than meteorological.
“There is a very delicate scene which takes place at dawn,” explains D’Antonio. “But the period of dawn in the Mediterranean region is quite short. It was a difficult scene to get right from the emotional point-of-view, and for the light, but we had to find a way to film which would allow Paolo and the actors to take their time.”
These two most challenging of scenes ended-up being two of The Hand Of God’s most successful and profound moments.
“I’m very proud of these two scenes, and I’m also very proud of the initial sequence where you have the Little Monk,” hints D’Antonio. “As a matter of fact, I’m proud of the whole movie,” she continues, “I’m very happy with the result because I’m happy that Paolo is happy. We achieved what we set out to do from the lighting and the filming standpoint.”
“I started working young and all the filmmakers I’ve worked with have nourished my passion and helped me grow”
D’Antonio readily pays reverence to filmmakers like Paolo Sorrentino that she has worked with over the years.
“I started working very young and I’ve really paid my dues because I started from the basics,” she says. “All of the filmmakers and directors I’ve worked with have fed and nourished my passion, have helped me grow, they have been my most important influences. I also owe a lot to literature. I love to read and my passion for narrative storytelling has helped me very much in imagining and building and creating stories.
“Curiosity is behind it all,” she concludes, “always looking around and being curious and listening. It has helped me a lot to be a good listener.”