Asif Kapadia’s new documentary is an engrossing portrayal of a football legend
One of the most interesting documentary filmmakers working today, Asif Kapadia has built quite the name of himself, taking iconic figures in public life and showing audiences their most vulnerable, intimate and private moments that define who they were behind the camera. Whether it’s Ayrton Senna or Amy Winehouse or Diego Maradona, Kapadia has a consistently unique voice in revealing different sides to personalities audiences think they know well only to then subvert their understanding of what it was like for these figures to live in the spotlight.
With Diego Maradona, Kapadia tackles one of the world’s most iconic football players who is idolized in some quarters and despised in others. Using rare footage, most of which has never been used before in film, Kapadia traces the origins and motivations of such a polarizing figure while focusing on a crucial period in the football star’s illustrious career: his transfer to Naples, a second-rate football team at the time whose purchase of Maradona had raised eyebrows and sparked serious debate about why the star had agreed to join an unremarkable team in one of Italy’s poorest cities.
With voice overs from Maradona himself, as well as coaches, family members and girlfriends, the film offers different, but coherent, perspectives on the complicated personality of Maradona – as a player, father, boyfriend and a kid from Villa Fiorito, one of Argentina’s most under-served slums with almost no access to water or proper means of living.
There is Diego and there is Maradona, Kapadia shows. The Diego is that Villa Fiorito boy who just wanted to get his parents an apartment to live in and joined the world of football so he can get by and do what he’s good at. And then there’s Maradona, the star who has drowned in fame, addiction and power. As Maradona scored victories and won hearts, the Diego continued to vanished, as a shadow that once loomed over a scared, fractured and vulnerable boy, and the Maradona took over. The film seems more focused on the Maradona-side of things and offers perhaps too much focus on Maradona’s rise to power as one of the most idolized and worshipped football players in the history of the game.
Kapadia’s decision not to film any new footage and to reply completely on existing, but rarely used, archival footage yields an authentic but lacking impression: at some point in the overlong film, viewers may wonder whether the film perhaps over-relies on things we already know about the star: his fame, addiction, victories and humble beginnings – all of which have been depicted in countless news pieces and articles – on the expense of delving into Maradona’s private life in ways that made Kapadia’s previous film Amy quite the knockout.
As an engrossing documentation of the price of fame, the ups and downs of a player who took a major gamble in Naples and went from God to devil in the local’s eyes, Diego Maradona succeeds. But some trimming and more focus on the man behind the star mask, the Diego behind the Maradona, would have made it a more eye-opening experience instead of retelling the star’s string of successes with Napoli in such great detail. It helps the film’s narrative but creates an all-too-familiar feel at the same time. We get to know a bit about the Diego, the deer-in-headlights who has been quite burdened by fame, and perhaps too much about the Maradona who has been extensively covered in various news outlets. Those interested in a story of glory and fame will not be disappointed, but those hoping for an unprecedented look at this troubled star or first-hand confessions, may be left wishing for more.
Diego Maradona will air on HBO later this year.