A great man once said that football isn’t a matter of life and death; it’s much more important than that. Asif Kapadia’s intense Diego doc adds religion to the list, focusing on the brief few years when Maradona not only delivered the Hand of God, but became arguably bigger than God.
Hero worship and the pressures of fame are something that Kapadia explored to great effect in his masterpiece Amy, and he tries the same tack again to less success. Maradona’s early career in Barcelona, including the racism he faced, and the infamous brawl in the 1984 Copa del Rey final, get just a cursory showing en route to his deification in Napoli. Likewise, his descent into the overweight hellraiser of recent years is covered in a single brutal jump cut.
Napoli was the poorest region in Italy and the worst team in the league, facing constant racism and brutal insults from rival clubs. It’s impossible to overstate how transformative it was to land possibly the best player in the world. Kapadia captures this euphoria perfectly, and uses close-up archive footage to emphasise the claustrophobia and hysteria of the fans and media as Maradona’s star rose and then fell.
It’s hard not to sympathise with Maradona’s self-destruction as he was forced to become increasingly reclusive, with the outside world demanding so much from him. But equally it feels like there’s a reverse angle missing. We see Maradona’s genius on the pitch through the spotlight of isolated sideline footage, but there’s not enough evidence of what it was about his personality that made him such a love/hate figure.
Kapadia’s archive-heavy approach turns up some gems and is great at putting you in Maradona’s mind, but a unique character like this needs to be seen from more angles to be truly understood.
CAST: Diego Maradona
DIRECTOR: Asif Kapadia
SYNOPSIS: Constructed from over 500 hours of never-before-seen footage, this documentary centres on the career of footballer Diego Armando Maradona, when he played for S.S.C. Napoli in the 1980s.