When Naples, the poorest city in Italy bought Argentine player Diego Maradona from Futbol Club Barcelona in 1984, the record fee was the highest paid at the time: €12 million. Maradona though, wanted a Ferrari, but was given a Fiat. But he was happy to leave behind his tumultuous time at the Spanish football club. His arrival would be a harbinger of great success for football club Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli (S.S.C Napoli) that so far was the most reviled team in Italy. The footballer’s time with the Italian club is the primary focus of director Asif Kapadia’s latest Diego Maradona. The intensely immersive documentary is the English filmmaker’s third in a trilogy on ‘child geniuses and fame’, after Senna (2010) about Formula One racer Ayrton Senna, and Amy (2015) about the late R&B and jazz singer Amy Winehouse.
- Director: Asif Kapadia
- Cast: Diego Maradona
- Storyline: Growing up in the slums of Buenos Aires, Diego Maradona become of the best footballers in history until he fell from grace because of a drug addiction and association with the Italian mafia
With access to 500 hours of unseen footage, Kapadia crafts an entirely archival documentary. Home videos, news sequences and even public rushes — several of very poor quality — come into a tightly produced deep dive into the life of Maradona’s revered legend and his fragile humanity. As journalists, family, teammates and occasionally the footballer himself comment on the past, a dichotomous figure appeals to the audience for both redemption and veneration. Very early into the film it’s clear Kapadia is a Maradona fan. The obsessive editing and singular, sometimes myopic spotlight breathes new life into the footballer’s fame and infamy. With Maradona dominating the screen from start to end, Kapadia prevents any and all distraction. But this renders a glossing over his hero’s flaws: the refusal to acknowledge paternity of an illegitimate son; drug abuse; philandering; and even arrogance. Instead, Kapadia wants his audience to realise the footballer through his own rose-tinted perception. That one of the greatest footballers simply succumbed to the perils of fame.
The essence of his vision aside, Kapadia’s Diego Maradona stands out by virtue of being a sports documentary unlike most of its peers. The film is inclusive, so much so that the uninitiated too will be engrossed. Past matches thrill, boasting of Maradona’s genius: the five-foot-five player had little physical advantage over his opponents, but his meticulous technique, very evident onscreen, makes him more formidable than most. Emphasis on Maradona’s emotions, from twinkling inebriated eyes at social gatherings, to blank frustration during interviews and some really agile dance moves, offers a glimpse into his ordinariness.
Kapadia separates Diego from Maradona — the latter an alter-persona the footballer created to aggressively chase the sport — to ensure resonance even with the footballer’s inaccessible sides. Take his involvement and eventual dependence on the Camorra (Italian mafia). Then there was his plea to Neapolitans to support Argentina over their own country’s team during the 1990 World Cup semi-finals in Naples which had later become his undoing.
Most of what’s presented in the documentary is easily accessible on the Internet. But it’s Kapadia’s packaging and execution of that archival footage that make this documentary a thrilling ride.