Diego Maradona

 

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A longer review to praise this new work by Asif Kapadia despite some minor drawbacks.

 
Diego Maradona

  

The very first feature made by the director Asif Kapadia, 2001’s The Warrior, immediately gave us notice of an exceptional talent. The only surprise since then lies in the fact that to date the best of his subsequent work has been found not in other dramas but in his feature length documentaries. Senna (2010), a film about the racing driver, and Amy (2015), a portrait of the singer Amy Winehouse, were both remarkable and made with a mastery that captivated audiences not especially drawn to his subjects. That fact turned these films into box-office champions in the documentary field and exactly the same qualities mark this new work about the Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona.

 

Working once again with the editor Chris King, Kapadia keeps to the mode that he has made his own. Thus, Diego Maradona consists of archival material and home movies accompanied by relevant comments from interviewees who are heard but not seen save in so far as they appear in the old footage. In other hands, this might be dull, but Kapadia assembles it all with a dynamism that give everything a stunning immediacy (what may well be a soundtrack utilising heightened sounds contributes to this). It is so skilfully done that even I, somebody totally without interest in football, was held throughout the film’s remarkably well sustained 130 minutes. What it provides is a study of an individual who, coming from nowhere, nevertheless achieved exceptional success in his own sphere only to succumb to drugs and alcohol to a degree that undermined his attainments. The result is a film which unexpectedly invites comparison with the very different but no less admirable Rocketman centred on Elton John.

 

If Diego Maradona is not quite the equal of those two documentary predecessors made by Kapadia that is down to two factors. A minor one is the banality that occasionally comes to the fore in the accompanying music that has been added; the major point that arises concerns the character of Maradona himself and the film’s chosen approach to him. The interviewees, heard here alongside many comments from Maradona himself which bear no specified dates, include sports journalists and colleagues but in addition we hear from his sister Maria, his wife Claudia Villafañe and Cristiana Sinagra by whom he had a son whom he refused to acknowledge until 2016. What thus emerges is a film which could be regarded as a character study of a man seeking glory rather than money and intent on proving himself despite being, as is said here, “a block kid from the slums”. Even the fact that Maradona’s height is a mere 5’5” may, once he had become a celebrity, have been an extra spur to assert his appeal to his many admirers and not least to women.

 

In seeking to express all this, Kapadia, while not excluding early brief flashbacks to Maradona’s childhood in Argentina, has chosen to concentrate on the key years when Maradona was playing for SSC Napoli which contrasted so strongly with his unhappy time as a player for Barcelona. The film reveals in detail how the Neapolitans, feeling themselves looked down on by other Italians, made Maradona their God, the outsider who through his extraordinary sporting skills could earn respect for Naples. Any man would find it difficult to live up to being put on a pedestal in this way and the pressures that followed together with the easy availability of cocaine through his Camorra connections would lead the way to his downfall. Furthermore, this one-time hero had to bear a drastic switch in the people’s response to him. That arose when he played for his own country against Italy in the World Cup in 1990, an event which would soon be followed by the impact of his being charged in connection with drugs and then a year’s disqualification from playing football on failing a drugs test.

 

To some extent one can blame the public for such an extreme change from admiration to hatred, but Maradona’s own behaviour was all too often far from being beyond reproach. Thus, it is not surprising that when their stories were told on film Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse could both in their very different ways obtain the empathy of an audience to a degree hardly likely to be matched here by Maradona. In this respect, it doesn’t help that Kapadia has seen the period in Naples as so representative of Maradona’s life generally that most of the film is devoted to it. That this is a weakness is the more apparent if one returns to the comparison between this film and Rocketman. Viewers of that movie know enough about Elton John’s later years to be able to see it in part as a film about how he was able to overcome his addictions. In contrast, Diego Maradona will leave many unaware of how things went for him after 1991 (a footnote tells us about his belated admission regarding the child he fathered in Italy, but there is no mention here of his divorce from Claudia in 2004 and no hint as to how he fared thereafter in facing down his demons. In a recent interview Kapadia, admitting to his own mixed feelings about Maradona, indicated that the quality that he admired most in him was his persistence - again and again a venture would be undertaken, success would follow and some fall from grace would end it, but in spite of that he would always be ready to try again. That aspect of the man - akin in a way to Rocketman ending with ‘I’m Still Standing’ - might be the key to making the viewer here root for Diego Maradona beyond the pitch, but the film’s emphasis on his days with SSC Napoli and not on the wider picture prevents the film from being able to bring out this point about his unbroken spirit. That said, however, Diego Maradona is nevertheless an admirable piece of work, another film supportive of the view that Asif Kapadia may well be the world’s greatest living documentarist.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  the voices of Diego Armando Maradona, Daniel Arcucci, Fernando Signorini, Claudia Villafañe, Cristiana Sinagra, John Foot, Gonzalo Bonadeo, Maria Maradona, Corrado Ferlaino.

 

Dir Asif Kapadia, Pro James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin, Ed Chris King, Music Antonio Pinto.

 

Film4/Lorton Entertainment/On The Corner Films-Altitude Film Entertainment.
130 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 14 June 2019. Cert. 12A.