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Film Review: Diego Maradona

Director:    Asif Kapadia

Cast:    Diego Maradona, Claudia Villafañe, Cristiana Sinagra, Fernando Signorini, Claudio Ferlaino, Diego Maradona Jr, Maria Rosa Maradona

Rating:    M

Running Time:    130

Australian Distributor:      Roadshow Films

This is the story of the legendary Argentinian footballer’s turbulent years playing for Napoli in Italy, which saw his greatest successes and lowest points. 

Oscar-winning director Asif Kapadia has established his skill at revealing the truth about fame and the individuals that pay the greatest price. Specifically what happens when the gap between their public and private lives threatens to swallow them whole. First with his films about Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse, Senna and Amy, and now with new documentary Diego Maradona.

The film has arguably more in common with Senna than Amy, with a narrative backbone erected from public footage and interviews offering a narration. You see Maradona on the pitch, at parties, enduring loud, chaotic press conferences with journalists jeering in front and fans screaming overhead. You follow him through his troubled start at Barcelona, to the heart of the film: his life in Italy, where he achieved a god-like status; a verging-on-unbearable mania erupting around him. The glory he hungered for is both the best and worst thing that could have ever happened to him.

As usual, Kapadia eschews talking heads and allows his tale to unfold through archive footage, accompanied by audio interviews. Maradona himself sat down for hours with Kapadia, but the film seems distrustful of his account and spends more time with his personal trainer Fernando Signorini and his now ex-wife Claudia Villafañe.

Much of the film takes place between 1984 and 1992, during Maradona’s tenure at the Italian club Napoli. He joined the club as a megastar, having won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina, but left in disgrace over cocaine use and in the wake of the 1990 World Cup that saw him become a villain in the country he had made his home.   

But the Italians have themselves to blame for what happened at the 1990 World Cup. Staging the semi-final in Maradona’s home city was asking for trouble. The locals were actually barracking for Maradona against their own country, and Italy got eliminated. When Napoli had no schools, no decent roads, not a good health system, and a poor economy generally, they always had Maradona and he was revered by the locals after giving them two League Championships.

Maradona’s private world and innermost feelings only briefly coming to the fore. There are quick flashes of the strain and pain that either turned him onto drugs or accelerated his descent; that led him into the arms of the local Mafia, that saw him deny his own son.   

And though Maradona is interviewed, he is unable to really speak to a deeper personal truth; to offer the texture you so desperately want.  Still, the final act is brief and devastating — Maradona physically, emotionally, a shadow of himself. The tragedy is clear and keenly felt. Age has caught up with him. He grew big and bloated and his body’s old rhythms have abandoned it.

But at least his addiction is behind him. He has met and accepted his son and he can console himself with the knowledge that his country still lauds him as a hero. The glory lives on, after all. The result is impressive filmmaking, with the usual precision and intelligence of editing. But you never truly get to know who Maradona is.





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