Asif Kapadia, the documentarian behind Senna and Amy, takes another larger than life famous figure and puts them under his microscope in order to once again examine the effects of fame on very talented individuals who are thrust under the searing spotlight. This time around, Kapadia chooses to focus on Diego Maradona, making this his first doc focusing on an individual who is still alive. In Maradona though, he still has as equally a fascinating a subject, with his documentary attempting to lift the lid on one of football’s most controversial figures.
Choosing to focus on Maradona’s time in Italy playing for Napoli, Kapadia manages to offer a window into the life of Maradona at the peak of his fame and career where he was hailed as a God. On the pitch, he was a master, an incredibly gifted footballer with exceptional vision, incredible drive and a keen footballing mind. Off the pitch, his life was marred with controversy, often in the headlines for his party animal behaviour, love affairs and connections with Italian mobsters.
Kapadia has a wealth of raw footage at his disposal; press junkets, game footage and paparazzi footage. But beyond that he also has access to a lot of more personal material, from home videos to some quieter moments out on the training ground. With this amount of footage Kapadia strives to portray something of the man and his contradiction, someone who was so good at what he did but led a life that seemed determined to destroy everything that that talent provided. While the film often feels a little too burdened by the amount of footage that’s there for use (it’s a little too long to maintain your complete interest), it is absolutely in keeping with Kapadia’s directorial style as documentarian trying to find the human behind the headlines.
The film offers quite a measured approach to the character of Maradona, even sometimes coming a little too close to excusing his behaviour in its attempt to inspire discussion and create some level of understanding as to why he went down such a destructive route. Part of it is the context of the city of Naples itself at the time, as the transfer of the most expensive player in the world to a club located in one of the poorest cities in Europe in the 80’s provoked questions regarding connections between football and organised crime, and deeper corruption on a state level. Maradona is thrust in the middle of all that and used as a prop, to a point where he becomes so ensnared within a world that he should never have been a part of, that a way out starts to look impossible. Then there’s the added pressure of being one of the world’s most skilled footballers.
There’s an unnerving edge to the proceedings outside of football. You feel on edge as you go through the chaotic chapters of Maradona’s life off the pitch, both with his lifestyle and the level of admiration that his fans lay upon him. That level of expectation, where everyone who loves you puts you on the same spiritual level as Jesus Christ clearly has an effect on an individual, but it is still a level of adoration that is quick to turn to hostility and hate. It’s a hard mindset to place yourself in because it just seems so absurd, but the film does well to articulate the maelstrom of that fame, and just how suffocating it was and can be.
The film finds its moments of calm when it focuses on the games or on the training ground. Here we see the evidence as to why Diego Maradona was held up to such a degree, and it’s hard to refute the facts when you revisit footage of him playing the game. His skill and drive still look sublime and unique even in the context of living with the modern faster game. The moments with his personal trainer also offer a different side of the icon, one who is calm, quiet and ready to put in the work.
It is this duality that the film is keen to highlight. There’s Diego, the young quiet boy from a poor neighbourhood in Argentina who had exceptional talent that propelled him to become a superstar. And then there’s Maradona. The superstar was Maradona, the controversial figure who made headlines for affairs and drug addictions, a persona which came to devour Diego and leave little of him behind. Kapadia has made a film about the corrupting nature of fame and glory that, while not as emotionally resonant as his previous work, still offers an empathetic window into the life of a fascinating figure. It may run slightly out of steam as it struggles to articulate an endpoint, but it’s undoubtedly intriguing all the same.
Dir: Asif Kapadia
Scr: Asif Kapadia
Prd: James Gay-Rees, Paul Martin
Music: Antonio Pinto
Country: United Kingdom
Runtime: 130 minutes
Diego Maradona is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.