It would be quite difficult to imagine in today’s game seeing the most expensive footballer in the world be driven in a Fiat 500 through the bustling streets of Naples, but that’s exactly what happened when Diego Armando Maradona made the transfer from Barcelona to Napoli in 1984. Awaiting his arrival was one of the poorest cities in Europe ridden with a drug and crime epidemic during a financial crisis. But this destitute environment was nothing new for a boy who had grown up in the slums of Buenos Aries to become arguably the greatest footballer of all time.
After making the award-winning Amy Winehouse documentary, Asif Kapadia made the chronicling of Maradona’s playing career up to the mid-90s his next assignment. In keeping with his style, Kapadia documents the footballer entirely through cleverly shaped and chosen television footage. These videos are combined with voiceover commentary from various observers to add context, some from the man himself. This style of documentary filmmaking has an heir of realism to it, as opposed to presenting a sugar-coated, edited version of the story, we are provided with an unfiltered documentation which comes straight from the horses’ mouth.
One thing to be admired about this film was the positioning of key moments in Maradona’s career within a wider socio-political context. In the backdrop of Argentina’s victory over England at the 1986 World Cup, the game which featured the famous ‘’hand of god’’ moment, footage from the Falklands war accompanies the action on screen. Subsequently, the incident is held up as a payback for the war. Furthermore, the significance of Maradona’s ‘’Naples is not Italy,’’ comment made before the match against Italy at the 1990 World Cup is unpacked. Kapadia encapsulates the mixed reactions the statement caused and perhaps the acknowledgment that it was unwise for the Argentine to assume the Napolitano’s would side with him over their own national team.
Much like Kapadia’s Oscar-winning Amy, Diego Maradona ultimately serves to show the dark side of celebrity. Much like Winehouse, Maradona battled with addiction, relationship problems and loss: as well as public adulation and stinging ridicule that was often heaped upon him in equal measure. The film’s composer Antonio Pinto uses his evocative score to accompany the many ups and downs of his career and never loses track of the story’s human touch.
A particularly thought-provoking scene near the end of the film shows a silent pondering Maradona at the team Christmas party, captured by an uninterrupted short zoom in on his face. As he gazes thoughtfully at his drink you cannot help but think that after being disgraced and ostracized by much of his Napoli fanbase, he is desperately wishing he could be anywhere else but there.
The ending of the film has a particular poignancy in light of recent events, as footage showing Maradona sitting down for an interview on Argentinian TV where he talks about his battle with addiction is an important inclusion before the credits role. It demonstrated that ultimately his lavish, rock n roll star lifestyle came back to bite him as his addiction increasingly took a toll upon his health. Despite this, Maradona’s contribution not only to football but popular culture in general must not be underestimated as he continues to exude a cult worship among many fans across the world. In typical Kapadia fashion, he ends the film with the troubled giants’ own words: ‘’When you are on the pitch, life goes away, problems go away. Everything goes away.’’ It’s a touching reminder that we should pursue what brings us fulfillment, and the film routinely captures such important sentiments in a way that ensures it is an astonishing piece of work.
Image: Cadaverexquisito via Wikimedia Commons