You may be looking at that title and thinking: ‘I didn’t know he reviewed football players too?’ Well, rest easy, I don’t review football, but I will review films about football.
There are few more divisive figures in world football than Diego Maradona. Revered in his home country, and reviled everywhere else, he was a truly gifted footballer whose crash back down to Earth was equal to that of Icarus, he who flew too close to the sun, that was Maradona.
What drew me to this was that the film comes to us from Asif Kapadia, the highly-regarded Director behind both the Senna and Amy documentaries, and this being a very interesting figure to document on the big screen, you would have to walk a long mile to find someone who tastes the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows quite like Maradona.
After a few disappointing years playing for Barcalona, we focus on Maradona’s days playing for Napoli, in Italy. As he rises to be regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, and later to be regarded as one of the games biggest villains.
I found myself bowled-over completely by how well this film was put together. Constructed from over five-hundred hours of never released film footage, yet the film makes it look like a scene that was directly shot for a film, like Maradona was being played by someone else, and to achieve that level of authenticity is a huge achievement.
I also appreciated the tight narrative focus of the film. Rather than being a simple retrospective of the man’s career, it instead focuses on his most successful, and most turbulent, period, while also cleverly juxtaposing this with the geo-political climate surrounding Naples, the city he moved too. All of these assets tie together nicely into an engaging, self-contained narrative that can be enjoyed from a non-fan’s perspective.
As he is such a divisive figure, the film faced a challenge to portray him even-handedly, a job I think it achieves fairly well. Yes, it definitely acknowledges that his downfall was mostly his own fault, but it also goes out of its way to show you the man behind the persona, the scared little boy from the Buenos Aires slum, fighting his way through throngs of people, and looking utterly terrified, is the complete opposite image of Maradona as what exists in many peoples heads.
The portrayal of his down-fall is one that is also handled very carefully. It cannot be under-states how much he sabotaged his own career, but there were also other forces at play, which this film delves into. I never like a documentary that is made as a love-letter to a certain person, to me, a good documentary explores a person’s flaws (Being Frank is a good example of this), and there have been fewer footballers more flawed than Diego Maradona.
Another thing the film does really well is building a picture of what Naples was like when Maradona was there, it was one of Europe’s poorest cities, but like many cities around the world, it worshipped football, and Maradona was beloved there, before his own hubris brought him crashing down.
All in all then, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Even as someone who is admittedly not the biggest football fan, Maradona’s story is engaging, and the final product is so well put together with footage that looks as though it was shot especially for this film, it’s a tremendous achievement in what can be done with archived footage, as well as telling an engaging story of rags-to-riches, and of a devastating crash to Earth, with a tight narrative focus and complete absence of the cliched ‘talking heads’ you would usually see in documentaries.
I would recommend this as good viewing for the documentary connoisseur, as well as football fans of all walks, as no matter who you support, you’ll always have an opinion on Maradona.