Academy Award-winning master of eulogies Asif Kapadia returns to complete his trilogy about the lives and deaths of tragic geniuses, but this time there's a catch. His latest subject, the football star Diego Maradona, is very much alive.
For several years, however, Maradona insisted on sabotaging his survival. In many ways, the film examines a hypothetical future that Kapadia's previous subjects, the Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna and the jazz phenomenon Amy Winehouse, might have had to endure had they lived.
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Stylistically similar to his previous documentaries, Kapadia retains a video essay style that relies exclusively on archival footage and freshly conducted audio interviews, including new confessions by the man himself.
So when we see the infamous Hand of God incident, it is accompanied by a Maradona voiceover, in which he sheepishly admits that 'it felt good' to carry out an act of deception on such a massive scale. Unfortunately, this is one of only a handful of moments in which Maradona is portrayed as a mere mortal. The rest of the film is nearly as reverential as the Neapolitans who hung portraits of the football god on their walls, right next to ones of Mother Mary.
Even when he admits to having cheated on his childhood sweetheart with several women, and later to having fathered an illegitimate child whose existence he ignored for 30 years, Maradona is shown not as a cad, but as a victim of circumstances.
It's almost as if the film is suggesting that he has suffered enough already; it would serve no purpose to conduct yet another elaborate character assassination. Which makes sense, considering how instrumental the media was in his fall from grace.
Diego Maradona, the film, focuses on a specific phase in his career, after he was transferred for a then world record fee to the Italian side Napoli. Maradona's arrival in Napoli came during a period of great social unrest. Not only had the side never won a major title, Naples was considered an economically and culturally backward corner of Italy. Indeed, during his first press conference as a Napoli player, Maradona was asked point blank by a journalist if he was aware that the region (and the club) was an alleged Camorra stronghold. The journalist was swiftly removed from the press room, but not before the club president could deliver an impassioned lecture about the virtuous people of Naples. The whole time, Maradona sat in silence.
In the seven seasons that Maradona spent at Napoli, his path often crossed with the local Mafia. And in those seven years — perhaps the most fulfilling, professionally, for him — he went from being a saviour to a pariah, demonised by the same people who once revered him.
Kapadia revisits themes of fate and fame, destiny and damnation. He is an excellent storyteller, but just as talented an editor. Having access to hundreds of hours of footage puts one in a rather powerful position. The arrangement of that footage, based on pure instinct — a careful snip there and a delicate snap here — can paint a rather subjective portrait. The film is, therefore, also an example of the filmmaker's personality; his ability to empathise with his subjects and not get carried away by their infamy, or the allure of scandal.
Gripping in the same way as Senna and Amy, Diego Maradona works even if you don't care about football. I am neither a fan of Formula 1, nor particularly partial to Winehouse's music, but those films provided an insight into worlds that felt all too real; remote yet relatable. Ultimately, each of these films is connected by a rather tragic thought: They say it's lonely at the top, but they often forget that it is just as lonely at the bottom. And those are the only lives that Diego Maradona lived.