Paolo Sorrentino had the idea for “The Hand of God” in mind for many years, but he wasn’t ready to write the screenplay, “until a couple of years ago,” he admits.

The film is his most personal yet as it tells the story of Fabietto Schisa, an awkward Italian teen whose life and vibrant, eccentric family are suddenly upended — namely by the electrifying arrival of soccer legend Diego Maradona, who inadvertently saves Fabietto, setting his future as a filmmaker in motion. Sorrentino drew on his memories of friends, family and his parents. “I finally found the right distance from facts and feelings,” Sorrentino says of finding the ability to share his youth and memories of growing up in Naples in the 1980s. “It’s a coming-of-age story split into two parts. The first is a story of joy and happiness. The second is a long goodbye to youth.”

To capture the beauty of the film, Sorrentino called on Daria D’Antonio to work as the film’s cinematographer. “She talked to me about my memories, and she tried to replicate the idea of my memory place,” Sorrentino says.

Says D’Antonio, the idea was to have a colorful palette in the first half of the film. “It’s a happy memory,” as young Fabietto is carefree and spending time with his family, but as the film progresses, that color palette fades and becomes more saturated.

Food plays a part in the film. One particular moment shows a family meal scene shot in Naples. “We shot that in chronological order because in that scene, continuity was very important and the actors needed to feel free,” D’Antonio says. “We took into consideration the natural lighting too and planned for the change because we simply didn’t want any limitations on the actors.” She adds, “We approached it the same way one would approach an action scene even though it’s a dialect action scene.”

The film made the Oscar shortlist in Best Foreign Film. When asked what it was like for Sorrentino to finally share the film with the world and have the reaction he’s been receiving, the filmmaker says, “I’m happy young people are appreciating the movie because all through this, I was speaking mainly to them because the movie contains an idea of a future.”

Sorrentino named the film after a goal scored by Argentinian soccer star Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup. But to Sorrentino, he was much more than a global soccer player. He says, “For me, he was the first chance I got to be in touch with art, so with this film as with ‘Youth,’ (Sorrentino’s 2015 film), I tried to present him as an artist.” Maradona died last year before Sorrentino could show him the film. “I never had the chance to talk with him and say the things I dreamed of,” Sorrentino laments.