Diego Maradona movie cast: Diego Maradona, Claudia Villafane, Corrado Ferlaino, and others
Diego Maradona movie director: Asif Kapadia
Diego Maradona movie rating: 4 stars
Halfway through this long but gripping documentary, there’s a line that could have been used as the film’s tagline. Diego Armando Maradona has won Napoli the maiden Italian league, and the whole of Naples is delirious. On the wall of a cemetery, a banner has been put up that reads: ‘E non sanno che so perso’. ‘They don’t know what they missed.’
With the median age of the world being a shade less than 30, it’s safe to assume that most of us haven’t seen prime Maradona, one of the biggest stars of the 20th century, and a man who continues to capture the imagination of millions around the world. After watching the Academy award-winning director Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona, it can be said that we know now what we have missed.
Diego Maradona is the final installment of Kapadia’s trilogy of documentaries, which includes Senna (2010) and Amy (2015). Like those two acclaimed films, this one, too, exclusively uses archival footage, with the slick editing, dramatic background score, long silences interspersed with occasional real-time conversations between the characters to drive the narration. This style is profoundly effective as creates a sense of hyperreality with the viewer taking a deep, intimate dive into the subject’s lives.
Unlike the previous two films, however, the spectre of death doesn’t hang over this one. With Senna and Amy, the audience knew the story would end in tragedy. That sense of foreboding added depth to those two documentaries. We know, on the other hand, that Maradona survives the end of the documentary. The absence of the macabre is liberating in its own way as it allows one to enjoy the movie.
And there’s plenty to enjoy. Visuals of Maradona, culled from 500 hours of previously unseen footage (the discovery of which is itself worth a documentary), weaving his magic on the football field and then losing his grip away from it.
The movie keeps going back to the theme of Diego, a vulnerable boy from the slums of Buenos Aires, vs Maradona, the king of football world. This internal conflict seem to give Maradona a pass for many things he does at Naples — from snorting cocaine to hobnobbing with the mafia. In that regard, the film seem a shade hagiographic.
It also gives context for the infamous “Hand of God” goal against England in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup. There are shots of aggression against Maradona by the English defenders, including an elbow to the face. When you jump cut from there to the shot of the pint-sized striker rising against the hulking English goalie and deflecting the ball with his raised left hand, suddenly it feels more poetic justice than cheating.
However, what adds substance to the film is the 1990 World Cup — and the intrigue surrounding the semifinal match between the home team and Maradona’s Argentina in — of all places — Naples, the city that worships Maradona. In one of the missteps that led to his swift fall from grace, Maradona, tries to exploit the north-south divide of the country by asking Naples to support Argentina. His once-adoring fans turn on him after Argentina knocks out the home team, and soon, law enforcement goes after him for drug use, tax evasion and mafia connection.
It’s difficult to overstate the influence of Maradona on Naples, and vice versa. For Argentina, Peak Maradona means a total of two months of football at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. But it was in this corner of Italy’s Almafi coast that this ‘Umano Dios’ or ‘Human God’ lived and breathed and played like he never did before or since. In two hours and ten minutes, Kapadia brings back those seven years.