A breezy blockbuster documentary about one of the footballing Gods, Diego Maradona’s fiery rhythm is established in the opening scene. Todd Terje’s Delorean Dynamite booms while a busted Fiat charges through the streets of Napoli as the city’s football ultras tussle for a glimpse of their new signing. Thus opens Asif Kapadia’s biography of the legendary player, which focuses on his time at Napoli, a period which covers the golden age of his career. Everything from the Hand of God to his drug convictions takes place in this six-year window, as we see the man slowly disappearing in favour of a mythic being who promised to save a deprived city.
There’s a lot going on in the margins: from the mafia’s grip on Napoli, to its economic struggles linked to the Italian North/South cultural divide, to an exploration of the 80s ubermensch and “master of the universe” culture – and a powerful thread about religion and sport’s capacity to numb an audience. All of these themes are integral but Kapadia doesn’t stop to actually examine their contexts, instead ploughing through the retrospective. The one time he slows down – in a flashback to the Falklands war – is amusing but quite crude, used to provide context for the infamous 1986 game wherein Maradona handballed in a goal and generally outplayed the English by himself. We’re treated to amazing shots of the sweaty British crowd mooning and jeering abuse at the Argentinian crowd. A worthy punchline.
In essence, the director doesn’t need to hit the handbrake. The archival footage is so well chosen and edited so deftly – with the pace of a Scorsese or Michael Mann film – that we see these cultural changes along with our subject. We live through him. He becomes a Zelig, a Forrest Gump, a Diamantino. By the end, we flash forward to the overweight, depressed, dead-end Maradona, appearing on talk shows and reliving past glories. It deliberately evokes Raging Bull’s coda of shame.
Structurally, it’s almost a carbon copy of Amy, and Kapadia’s tone is consistent and formally strong enough to suit just about any cultural figure he wants to turn his eye to. One wonders if the style will reach its limit. But if Amy and Senna were more straightforward celebrity parables, perhaps Maradona is complicated by the fact that he is still with us. Although his story appears to be over, his guiding hand in interviews certainly colours the positivity of his depiction here. For the rush that Diego Maradona delivers though, it hardly matters.
Diego Maradona is released nationwide on 14th June 2019.
Watch the trailer for Diego Maradona here: