- 14 Jun 19
Fascinating, if flawed, portrait of football's most infamous star.
“Rebel. Cheat. Hero. God.”
With 2011’s Senna and 2015’s Amy, Asif Kapadia proved himself a master documentarian. In both films, he delved into the experiences of people whose exceptional talent thrust them into exceptional circumstances, of a kind that no human being is prepared for. His latest offering boasts perhaps his most obviously intriguing subject: Diego Maradona, once the most famous/infamous, loved/hated footballer in the world.
Eschewing the talking heads and interviews he embraced to insightful effect in Amy, Kapadia carves his narrative out of 500 hours of existing material from Maradona’s archives, including home videos, match coverage, public interviews and paparazzi footage. Combined with subtitles, this frenetic mix can be visually overwhelming – don’t sit in the front row. The footage shows how a short, stocky boy from a Buenos Aires slum became a living god when he started playing for Naples; a lawless city that seemed made for the cunning, charismatic philanderer and cocaine addict. When the press described him as “a little bit of cheating, a lot of genius”, it was all admiration. Maradona had found his spiritual home.
Except, he still played for his actual home, culminating in a 1990 World Cup match between Argentina and Italy, where Maradona defeated the country that had declared him their god – and watched as they instantly declared him the devil. Kapadia’s use of footage captures the hysteria surrounding Maradona – the euphoria, the worship, the crises, the destruction, the hate. It evokes the overwhelming, unremitting nature of his fame and the bizarre, destructive nature of tribal fandom. But Maradona’s flaws are clear, too. He cheats. He lies. He betrays his wife. He’s involved with Italian mobsters. He denies the existence of his own child. He has no concept of consequences.
This is fascinating and compelling – but to a certain extent, known. What feels missing is a sense of new interpretation, and here, the lack of interviews is felt. Emotionally immature and inarticulate, ’80s and ’90s Maradona provides no insight into his conflicting loyalties, fame, addiction, criminality, or his public downfall. 2019’s Maradona, along with his friends and family, could have. Diego Maradona is excellent at exploring the danger of myth. But it’s slightly less successful at exploring the man.