Playing to the gallery (Reviews)

Friday, 11 October 2019

Diego Maradona
Language: English 
Director: Asif Kapadia
Starring: Diego Maradona
Showing at: Cinepolis, Inox
Rating: ***

Diego Maradona’s life is a good example of the perils of fame, the dizzying heights and a hard fall. For a footballer worshipped as god in a football-mad country, how does a mere mortal deal with divinity without the risk of falling off the pedestal?

Asif Kapadia, who had made award-winning documentaries on Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse, put the same skill and detail into collating news footage, home video, interviews into an exploration of celebrity and its pitfalls. The story of Maradona is well-documented in the media, fans have seen the change from the short, slim, curly-haired, charismatic, gifted footballer, to his own overweight parody.

Kapadia had access to 500 hours of never-before-seen footage, a lot of it from Maradona’s personal archive, plus fresh interviews, and if the subject has this kind of trust, then the filmmaker has to live up to it. He weaves a complex film, editing that footage into a watchable form, punctuated with well-chosen music and meticulous sound design. However, unlike Senna and Winehouse, Maradona is alive, so that does raise questions about how much the filmmaker was allowed to show.  Kapadia offers the theory that Diego and Maradona are two opposing sides of the same man — one personal and one for public consumption.

It’s a typically inspirational story that has been used in fiction so often; Diego Maradona, one of five children, pulled his family out of poverty with his extraordinary soccer playing. When he was signed by the Barcelona team for a then-record fee of $7.6 million, he was exalted to great heights. He then moved from Barcelona to Naples, for a record $10.1 million, and joined a weak team with the lofty idea of redeeming it. He did lead the team to national victory, but there was the connection with the mob and other unsavoury elements, the constant displays of hot-headedness, the scandals (drug addiction, womanising, a child out of wedlock), the tug of war between Argentina and Italy to ‘own’ him.

For soccer fans, the film is a treat, but there is a lot more that perhaps a fictional film on the life of a soccer star inspired by Maradona might be able to reveal, and do complete justice to those tumultuous years.

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