In a relatively short period of time, Asif Kapadia has made something of a name for himself in the world of documentary filmmaking. His previous films, Senna (2010) and Amy (2015) were astonishing pieces of work and both incredibly well received. Kapadia has a remarkable knack for showing a different side to his subjects and painstakingly crafting unique narratives out of the incredible amounts of archive footage at his disposal. With both Senna and Amy, there were very clear and conclusive end-points to the narratives, both figures tragically dying young. However, Diego Maradona, the subject of his latest documentary, is still alive and therefore the film has to work much harder to create a compelling narrative despite that open endedness to the story.
Fortunately, Kapadia’s skill as a storyteller as well as the remarkable editing work of Chris King, ensure that this is yet another astonishing entry into his documentary “trilogy”. It opens with a whistle-stop tour through Maradona’s early career, cross-cut with a car chase, before screeching to a halt as the footballer makes a big money signing for Italian football club SSC Napoli, where the film spends most of its time. Having to prove himself once again after a slightly tumultuous stint at Barcelona, Maradona’s skill and charm quickly wins over the people of Naples and when the trophies and accolades follow, his status is elevated to something of a deity amongst the people who live there. The film also explores Naples as a place, much aligned and something of a laughing stock to the rest of the country, they find their saviour in Maradona, and indeed the film emphasises the weight of expectation – the weight of the entire city in fact – that was placed upon his shoulders.
In focussing on the rise, and eventual fall of Maradona’s career at SSC Napoli, the film has its story and in coupling this with the duality of the man himself, the film also has its protagonist and antagonist in the singular figure at the centre. Maradona was a man both revered and reviled, and Kapadia plays with this notion presenting his two facets as two very different characters. “Diego” is the charmer, the boy from the slums outside Buenos Aires who made it big, and who with his incredible talent, cares only about making sure his family is looked after and that they will want for nothing. “Maradona” on the other hand is the ego, the persona that he has to embody to cope with the pressures of fame, and the darkness and vices that come with that.
As someone who doesn’t care much for the sport, and who only has a limited knowledge of the subject, I found this film absolutely fascinating, and that is a true testament to Asif Kapadia’s skill as a filmmaker; to ensure the film will be equally enthralling to fans of the game, and the more casual viewers. The fall from grace and the way the city that welcomed and worshipped him eventually turns on him is shocking and saddening in equal measure, and there are even parts of the film which feels like a Scorsese gangster film or a seedy crime thriller. It is unexpected in so many ways and yet so lovingly constructed that you can’t help but be swept up in it; it is evident, as with all of his films, that Kapadia is hugely passionate about the subject matter and that passion permeates throughout.
To find a flaw, it is perhaps that the story does not have its clear endpoint; which is through no real fault of the filmmaker, and just happens to be the nature of this particular story that is being told. Kapadia still does an admirable job of ensuring there is at least a beginning, a middle, and a mostly satisfying end, even if it does feel like there is so much more the film could’ve said towards the end.
Regardless of the subject, and regardless of the level of prior interest you have in it as a viewer, Kapadia’s documentaries are always a must-watch and Diego Maradona is certainly no different. Using previously unseen footage and some fantastically candid interviews, this documentary feels definitive, personal, and crafted with passion. Unmissable.