By Naseem Ally. Diego Armando Maradona. It could be argued that he’s perhaps the most divisive figure in the history of world football. Adored by millions, despised by many. Well, maybe just the English.
Asif Kapadia, director of the documentary films ‘AMY’ and ‘SENNA‘ follows up both servings, with an intimate tell-all story of one of, if not, the greatest football player of all time – Diego Maradona. This film is filled with a vast array of ‘never seen before’ archive footage of Diego Maradona. From his come up in the shantytown of Villa Fiorito, making his professional debut for Argentinos Juniors, his short but ‘spicy’ spell at Barcelona, through to his messiah-like status during his time at Naples.
And of course, the infamous 1986 World Cup.
What I appreciate most about this documentary film, is that it separates itself from all the others that are based on specific individuals, by the fact that in this film, the viewer never sees the ‘subject’ as it were, answering any questions or talking about their life directly to the camera. Throughout the whole film, Diego is off-screen giving his input on key stages and moments in his life. We only hear his husky voice, laced with a strong, patriotic tone from his Argentinian roots.
This is also perhaps a reflection of his age and his fondness for the finer things in life, like Cuban cigars. When he speaks, there’s a feeling that the wisdom gained over the years from looking back on his life, leaves him with a sense of slight remorse. I repeat, slight remorse. It’s almost as if is he wants to ask himself ‘Diego, what could you have done differently?’
But, he’s quick to brush this off because after all, he’s Diego Maradona, and in his eyes, he can do no wrong.
You could say, he views himself like an Argentinian ‘Robin Hood’ or as one of cinema’s most iconic characters, Tony Montana. It wouldn’t be outside the stretch of the imagination to picture Diego Maradona deliver the words ‘I always tell the truth, even when I lie’ on the big screen. Diego really feels at home in this film, and I think Asif has given him the freedom to ‘roam the pitch’ when talking about his life, as it never feels forced.
Diego Maradona moves at his own pace. He gives himself time to pause and think, calculating every word, almost ‘Machiavellian’ in his approach.
There are some great quotes in this film. He delivers them in such a way that they don’t hit you immediately, but you have to sort of, let them ‘marinate’ for a few seconds before you reach an ‘aha’ moment.
Diego talks with such nonchalance and bravado, bordering on the line of arrogance. He knows how to keep your attention. But at the same time, he doesn’t necessarily crave it. In other words ‘you can either take it or leave it’. It never feels like he’s trying to sway your opinion of him one way or another. He’s just being…Diego.
In reference to this, those closest to him have described him in the film as having two personalities. There is Diego, and then there is Maradona.
Diego is the family man, the prankster, the mama’s boy.
Maradona is crafty. Audacious. But most of all, he’s the underdog.
What I appreciate the most about this film is that it’s a very fair and honest take on the man. I haven’t seen anything this frank since James Toback’s ‘Tyson’. Both Diego Maradona and Mike Tyson share similar stories. Two underdogs, who are propelled out of adversity to reach heights that they themselves, couldn’t have even imagined.
However, as time has unfolded both men have had to bear the burden of handling enormous success at such a young age. ‘Diego Maradona’ is a documentary film done right. Too many of them are overpolished.
But not with this, it doesn’t pull any punches. A perfect case in point is Cristiano Ronaldo’s movie ‘Ronaldo’. It’s just too…well, perfect. This comes as a surprise as Asif is credited as a producer on ‘Ronaldo’. In ‘Ronaldo’ we hardly see his flaws or weaknesses. However, I understand the likes of him and Messi are playing in a much more squeaky clean era of football, compared to Maradona’s.
His era was a lot more like Studio 54 turned up to eleven. Diego was one of the last of a generation of footballers that weren’t overprotected by PR teams. Perhaps the only footballers left that could receive this kind of documentary treatment are, the ‘Original Ronaldo’ of the late nineties and mid-noughties, and the all smiling, samba dancing ‘Ronaldinho’. Both, marvellous players on the pitch but also no strangers to the fast life.
They both played in a time where footballers had an air of mystique about them. In the current age of social media, we already know what a footballer ate for breakfast and which new hairstyle they’ll debut for their next match. We know way too much about them, and it takes away that ‘mystique’ which is what makes this film on Diego Maradona so fascinating.
This documentary is very raw and gritty, leaving the viewer with a lot of information to dissect. It’s not a holiday brochure for you to quickly gloss over. No stone is left unturned. In this, you see Maradona struggling to balance his private life, due to the overbearing affection of the supporters.
He’s not superman by any stretch of the imagination, nor is he trying to be.
Case in point, there’s a scene of him in a brawl during his time at Barcelona, which looked like something straight out of a ’70s Kung-Fu flick. You can hear every thump and kick from a tackle, and every flick and dribble of the ball. It’s awe-inspiring and a testament as to what can be done in a documentary film with a compelling subject like Diego Maradona.
In a day and age of pc culture and cookie-cutter athletes, I don’t know of too many active athletes who would be able to bring something to the table, quite like this. Perhaps Lewis Hamilton or Mario Balotelli?
Whether that happens or not, ‘Diego Maradona’ has set the bar.
It’s just unfortunate that this film didn’t walk away with the Bafta gong for ‘Best Documentary’ before the final whistle.
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