Asif Kapadia, Oscar-winner for Amy in 2015, has made two previous documentaries about two ‘troubled’ icons in their fields (Amy and Senna). Now, Kapadia has shifted his attention to another troubled star, this one still among the living. Diego Maradona is the embodiment of the term ‘troubled genius’.
Diego Maradona briefly introduces the football legend’s poverty-stricken upbringing, his early playing career and penultimately, his torrid time playing for Barcelona. This leads to his transfer to Napoli, the only team really pursuing him because of the beginnings of a reputation as a troublemaker.
Napoli was a very cash-strapped football club. The city was almost ostracised from Italy, there were high murder and crime rates, poverty everywhere and yet somehow, they managed to pull it off… the world’s best player in Naples playing for SSC Napoli.
The club before Maradona were without any major trophies in their history, underachieving for decades in the eyes of their fanatical support. The brief history given of how the following events would begin at Napoli is spliced against an incredible opening scene of footage, capturing the drive through Naples to the Sao Paolo Stadium. The rapturous 80s soundtrack makes it feel like an 80s cop action flick. Diego Maradona and Napoli were seemingly a match made in heaven.
Remarkably the film is 99% found footage, layered with interviews from his former personal trainer, ex-wife, ex-girlfriends, former teammates and family – Kapadia has done his research thoroughly. The sound design had to be perfect to make the older dialogue in the footage audible alongside the more recent interviews. The sound design wonderfully caught the atmosphere of the matches, the crunch of every tackle and the smashing of every ball so vibrantly. The aesthetics varied uncontrollably because the found footage ranged from Betamax, VHS, Super 8 and 35mm – anything that was used to record at the time. This home video aesthetic quality emphasises the impressive fact that so much footage was discovered.
What really stands out about Diego Maradona is the multilayered stories of his relationship with the city of Naples and its people. ‘Subjected’ to the constant public swarms of affection, his ill-advised friendship with the local crime family and the personal affairs that led to the depression that opened him up to the world of addiction. Maradona’s only solace was the game he loved to play.
Featured dialogue from Maradona throughout is more focused on positive stories, which, against the footage and other dialogue, seemed few and far between. Those close to him witnessed the two sides of the man: Diego and Maradona. A concept he himself couldn’t grasp, Kapadia reveals in discussions after, Diego, the sweet, poor boy dreaming of football and buying his parents a house, to Maradona, the talisman, genius, incapable of showing any weakness, the celebrity, the image. Almost like two totally separate entities vying for control of his body.
The decline of Maradona’s playing career began in the 1994 World Cup in Italy, when unbelievably, he would score a penalty versus Italy in a shootout win which took Argentina to another World Cup final. His desire to move to a quieter city, for a quieter life was rejected, his career was on a downward spiral and the addiction to cocaine became his life. As the documentary builds an understanding of his addiction, it ends with a powerfully resonant escape from Naples, arriving in crowds of screaming fans, leaving through the backdoor in silence.
Still in Naples there’s God and there’s Maradona. For a while, the order wasn’t quite clear.