There may never have been as comprehensive a biography on screen for a soccer player as Oscar-winning director Asif Kapadia gave us "Diego Maradona" last fall. A film worth watching one time for the player in his time, a second to grapple with his icon status, and another to appreciate the film’s terrific blend of aesthetic, sound, commentary and storytelling.
Fans have seen Maradona’s goals, his hand of God, his larger-than-life reputation off the field. But the documentary that Kapadia offers deftly paints Maradona into a man of such honest complexity that the audience is forced to reconsider his legacy before they’re halfway into the film, let alone by the rolling credits.
Thematically speaking, Soccer America’s Ian Plenderleith writes this in his excellent review: “[Maradona’s] personal trainer Fernando Signorini talks of the split between the real person 'Diego' and the less pleasant persona of 'Maradona,' used to face up to the over-expectant outside world outside of his private sphere. The longer he spends in Napoli, the more we see of the latter. The smile disappears and the strain shows.”
It is this dichotomy that anchors the film in a thematic reality, but it’s the footage of Maradona on the field that keeps the eyes glued to the scene.
Maradona’s deceit is his greatest strength on the field: his feints and masked passes are filmed from the sidelines as he wins Napoli’s only Scudettos and Argentina’s second World Cup. And his deceit is his biggest weakness off of it, as the film follows the city of Napoli welcoming him, deifying him, and then rejecting him when he finally turns on the mafia that sponsored his criminal exploits.
If a character like Maradona could ever be done justice, with a scale weighing his life stories in equal measure, Kapadia has gotten it damn close.
“Cuando entras la cancha, se va la vida. Se va las problemas. Se va todo.”
“When you’re on the field, life goes away. The problems go away. Everything goes away.”
-- Diego Maradona.
“There’s a really nice guy named Diego, who I would do anything with and anything for. There’s another character named Maradona who I wouldn’t walk a step with.” - Fernando Signorini, Maradona’s trainer.
In the Planet Futbol Podcast, Kapadia tells Grant Wahl that Maradona’s first agent, Jorge Cyterszpiler, had the idea for a documentary before Maradona moved to Barcelona — he knew Diego would be a star. So Cyterszpiler hired two cameramen to follow him around on and off the field, compiling hundreds of hours of footage.
Eventually Cyterszpiler was fired, and the cameramen with him. They left the footage in Napoli, and Kapadia’s producers negotiated with Maradona himself to acquire rights to the tapes.
Over the next three-ish years, Kapadia did over 80 audio interviews to be cross-referenced to the visual elements that his team of crack shot researchers had dug up. Couple those two tracks with Cyterszpiler’s footage, then peg it all to Kapadia’s three three-hour interviews with Maradona, and voila, there’s the first cut of the movie. It was five hours long — though I don’t think I’m the only one who’d be happy to watch that version too.
Did you know?
During his Napoli years, Maradona regularly partied from Sunday night until Wednesday morning, when he began his detox for his next match four days later.
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