Review: DIEGO MARADONA Doco, Director Asif Kapadia's Third Masterpiece
Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy) strikes gold again with the near-perfect biopic of footballer Diego Maradona. The documentary director depicts what many consider ‘the hand of god’ in such a way that highlights both Maradona’s immense skills as a player, and his many flaws as a human being and celebrity figure, often wrestling with the two personas of Diego from Argentina, and Maradona the man who saved Naples, Italy.
Diego Maradona begins urgently; rough archive footage of a car convoy rushing to a press conference as the techno-beats of Todd Terje and his track Delorean Dynamite play as other footage of Maradona and those in praise of him are spliced in. The soundtrack remains excellent throughout.
These are the opening credits of the film, and feel like a mini-epic themselves; the past, present and future are all represented here, and it is a powerful and compelling opening. The film has you, regardless of your love of the game. Devotion, or following of fútbol, certainly helps, though, as the film contains some immaculate plays throughout his career, forever cemented in history.
As with Asif Kapadia's other works, Diego Maradona is completely archived footage arranged like a fictional film. The masterful director stitches together the footage like no one else; expert editing creates magic from the fragments. Over five hundred hours of unseen footage has been trawled through to develop this break-neck analysis of Maradona and his life both on and off the field.
The film, while paying homage to the athlete, is also just as accusatory of the subject matter as his previous biopics. Maradona’s links to the Camorra are explored; the film is chronological and the issues that would later re-define Diego surface and resurface, gaining momentum as his affiliations are unearthed and scandals pile up.
Let’s rewind; Diego Maradona begins with a press conference, the beginning of the end that highlights both the media’s hounding and the rabid, passionate devotee fan base that howl through ceiling grates. Before the negative aspects come to light, however, Diego Maradona deep dives into why he is so damn good, and the adaptability, strategy and upbringing in Argentina that leads to his legendary placement in Naples.
The archive footage in Diego Maradona is occasionally accompanied by voice-overs that provide a wide spectrum of different experts commenting and is often enlightening. This is also a technique regularly employed by Kapadia in his other films. Diego Maradona also works as a time capsule, capturing the shocking racism of the time, shared nationally in Italy towards Napoli, despite sharing the same flag. The culture shock and displacement is overcome by Diego when he relocates to Italy from Argentina, but the film does not shy away in the grand scheme of things and depicts how his personal life affects his performance.
Despite this, the film is a great encapsulation of his career, and the epic football matches that led to his worship in Italy. This includes his World Cup performances, but, more importantly, the UEFA cup for Naples, transforming them from one of the worst to the undisputed best. The film does not capture every single win, or every upset -- that would require a full episodic series -- but given the feature length limitation, it does his legacy service. Weighty historical expectations, such as the Falklands War, when Argentina was matched versus England in the World Cup, is a strange aside that somehow works, and alludes to the untenable passion and diminishing returns of winning year-after-year.
The initial scandal of a mistress and bastard child ties into a larger tale of corruption involving tax evasion, depression and ultimately drug abuse. As an untouchable god, these fallacies are given the blind eye by the public and media, but everything changes when Argentina, led by Diego, plays versus Italy in a deciding World Cup match.
Tensions are high. The dismay of Italians, and Diego urging Naples to support Argentina (betraying Italy) create a powerful conflict of nationalist identity. When Argentina triumphs, only to lose to Germany in the crushing final, Maradona is outcast. His imperfections are highly scrutinized by his adopted home, powerful contacts in Italy separate, and his fall from grace turns to a dark tale of addiction and association as he becomes involved with the Camorra family.
Wrestling with two identities, Diego and the all-consuming Maradona, takes its toll, and he retreats from public life. Although there is no traditional tragedy or death, Asif Kapadia frames the narrative in an equally emotional way. Diego Maradona achieves success by disassociating and compartmentalizing his life and problems to be the best. Once this is definitive, a black hole forms, one explored here masterfully in the second half of the film.
Asif Kapadia has earned auteur status, his work ethic and obsessive attention to detail is unmatched by contemporary documentarians, each scene instilled with definitive purpose and genuine unguarded emotion. Diego Maradona is a labor of love, and despite the subject matter or your interest in it, any film by this director is required viewing.
Diego Maradona premiered at Cannes, and is now available to stream and watch on HBO.