Friday 21 June 2019


The opening night premiere at this year's Sheffield Doc/Fest was Asif Kapadia's follow up to Senna and Amy, his previous biographical works that looked behind the fame of two stars of sport and music. This time Kapadia aims to dig under the infamy of one of football's most controversial and much discussed figures that is the "Hand of God' himself, Diego Maradona.

The film starts with the arrival of Diego Maradona in the "poorest city in Italy", Naples, in July 1984, following a car as it zips through the streets like they're fleeing a bank robbery. Instead, they're transporting Maradona to a press conference to announce his signing with the club, a move that at the time made no sense for his career but has since cemented his place in sporting legend, taking the team from near relegation to champions in a few short years. Kapadia's approach to reveal what made Maradona into the man he is today is to uncover the duality of his character; on one side the charming family man, Diego, and the other, the drug addicted, womanising persona of Maradona.

It's true that from the footage assembled, Maradona could be a different person depending what day you caught him on, particularly in the later years of his club career when his drug addictions really started to take their toll. And Kapadia and his team have managed to uncover and restore hours of personal home videos (procured from Maradona's ex-wife who he is currently suing and is currently suing him), that reveal how devoted he was to his family as the boy-done-good from the slums, looking after those closest around him. Even if you don't follow football, you'll have heard the name Maradona mentioned, and probably not in a complimentary way. It was he who scored for Argentina in the quarter final of the 1986 World Cup against England, just a few years after the Falkland Islands conflict, using the "symbolic revenge" of his hand, and a goal that is still being discussed like it was last weekend. His prowess on the pitch and ability to unite an underdog city makes for a powerful and compelling story, as Maradona ascends to a higher plain of celebrity to his fans, until his beloved Argentinian national squad is made to play Italy in Naples during the 1990 World Cup and the fans that worshipped him revolted.

What surprised me most about Kapadia's film was that, for a film with so much football (a sport I have no interest in) in it, I was engaged throughout all of the matches. This is due to some incredibly enthralling footage of Maradona showing off his skill on the pitch, as every player he comes up against pales in comparison to his footwork. Even though the two hour plus running time might seem like an overly long amount of time to spend with such a controversial character (a tight 90 minutes perhaps?), the extra time is well deserved and passes by quickly. There's also plenty of off pitch drama, as Maradona is forced to stay playing for Naples against his wishes, and personal problems with his refusal to acknowledge the child he fathered with a woman who was not his wife. It's testament to Kapadia's craftsmanship that what would be potential issues (an unlikeable central figure and a film that is 95% non-English language, for example) don't register during viewing.

Kapadia's film may have a less endearing hero than Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse at its centre, but he's still able to provoke sympathy for this once great sportsman. Whether you feel that is rightly or wrongly may depend on your view of Maradona as you go into this film, but it's undeniable that Kapadia has managed to reveal a staggering amount about him as a cultural phenomenon who went off the rails. Part gangster drama, part sports film, all tragedy; this film does not try to challenge what you think about the man, but you're going to have a better informed opinion at the end.


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