I feel that the best thing a documentary can do is take a subject that you know nothing about and make it compelling and make you want to learn more. I feel it’s important for me to say that since I have absolutely no interest in football. I don’t follow football, I don’t play football and the knowledge I have of football wouldn’t fill the back of a stamp. So when I say that I found Diego Maradona to be a really interesting film, that says a lot about the quality of the documentary. It also helps that this is a documentary from Asif Kapadia, the director of Senna and Amy, and I think one of the best documentary filmmakers working today.
The focus of the film is on the career of Diego Maradona whilst he was at Naples. There are some brief scenes at the start of the film covering his time at Boca and Barcelona, but the main focus is on Naples, with attention also given to the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. Now the first goal of the film was to make me interested in the football and I have to say that Kapadi succeeded. Now, as stated, I know nothing about football and have no interest in it, but the archive footage used in the film, particularly of the Naples fans, was able to put me in the mindset of the fans. I was able to understand the power that Maradona had over the citizens of Naples and the high esteem they held him in. There are some really interesting points in the film about the cult of personality that formed in Naples around Maradona, with there being this almost religious fervour around Maradona. This is a case where the archive footage really helps as this is an instance where, without seeing just how insane it got in Naples, I would not have believed just how revered Maradona was.
There are also interesting points raised about the geopolitical significance of football, from there being lingering issues over the Falklands War when Argentina played England in the 1986 World Cup Semi Final, to the general way Naples was treated in the Italian political climate at the time (with it having a reputation for being filthy, poor and corrupt), with this also showing how Maradona was a morale booster for the citizens of Naples. There are also interesting elements regarding how Maradona came to be hated in Italy partly because of the geopolitical issues with football, after Argentina beat Italy in the 1990 World Cup semi final and how that created personal issues for Maradona as the police were less inclined to be lenient towards Maradona.
Speaking of which, there are some great moments showing the personal life of Maradona, including his family life, his drug problems and his ties with the Camorra (essentially the Naples mafia), although I think this side of the film does not get the attention it deserves. There are moments which relate to Maradona having a son he only acknowledged to be his in 2007 but there are long stretches of the film where he isn’t mentioned, along with other stretches that don’t give the rest of Maradona’s family the attention they deserve. Lots of fascinating moments could have been raised regarding Maradona’s relationship with his family, the ups and downs of it, how Maradona felt due to his upbringing in one of the poorest regions of Buenos Aires and the damage his drug addiction and financial issues did to his family life but they aren’t given the time they needed. I understand that there are limitations in the footage Kapadia and his team had access to, but I still think this was a missed opportunity to really dive into Maradona’s life the same way Kapadia did with Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse.
Overall, Diego Maradona does the one thing it needed to do right: make me interested in football. The skill Asif Kapadia and his editors have in assembling the raw footage to create an engaging narrative is still as impressive here as it was in Senna and Amy and whilst I don’t think the film goes into as much detail about Maradona as a person as I would have liked, it stills does an excellent job at showing the power Maradona had in Naples and his skill as a footballer.
My Rating: 4/5