By Adam Ray Palmer
To kick off my Karlovy Vary Film Festival experience for the first time ever was a film about a man who, in my country of the UK, is depicted in a certain light.
Diego Maradona has never really been a figure who is celebrated in England due to the 1986 controversy* *pure cheating and so, I had my judgements going into this 2-hour documentary.
I took my seat in the impressive National Cinema here in Karlovy Vary, and was ready for Asif Kapadia to shed light on what Diego Maradona really is/was like. The documentary uses archived footage from the past four decades that follows the rise and fall of the troubled Argentinian.
The film rightfully kicks off with a snapshot look at his gifted footballing talent. We see him as an 11-year-old kid packed full of talent, then swiftly moving into the Boca Juniors ranks in his homeland, before a big switch to FC Barcelona. It’s here where his career hit a snag and after two disastrous seasons, he made a much debated and shocking transfer to the outcasted city of Naples, Napoli FC.
From the powerful moment he is unveiled as a Neapolitan for the first time, the film builds to a midpoint crescendo where Maradona is seen as a godlike figure. He has mosaics everywhere around the city, he has children named after him and the Napoli Mafia take him in as one of their own. Maradona took a near-relegated team to the title within three seasons – a hero.
As Maradona sored, Diego demised. Asif’s film (director, writer and producer) portrays two men throughout. Like most super-celebrity figures, and a common theme in Kapadia’s movies, the protagonist has two sides – and Diego Maradona is no different. The latter half is a demigod. A charming hero who can never show weakness. But Diego is entirely different. He is troubled, dealing with personal tension like a secret son that he hides for thirty years and of course an enormous drug problem.
The movie documents everything that happens in his defining years from 1984 to 1991 where he becomes everything, and then ultimately nothing. It’s a brutal watch when the story turns into something that can only be described as a classic nightmare fairy tale. From a World Cup-winning footballer to a broken, drug-addled has-been.
Asif Kapadia knows exactly how to tell a good story. He tugs on the heart strings of the audience. Diego is a man that all senior football fans in my family loathed for the handball, but I couldn’t help but feel for a man so lost. All the footage is so poignant, with many sequences looking at Diego as he longs into darkness around a dinner table or at home. But when on a football pitch or in a dressing room, he comes alive. It’s very much a story when he’s a footballer, it is everything. When you leave that behind, what do you really have?
His friends and the cocaine addiction really helped him in the late eighties, but now has very little to show for it. The movie climaxes with scenes of a now older Maradona looking extremely bloated, pass-caring for his own feelings and limping around a 5-a-side football pitch – truly a fall from grace.
I know exactly what Asif was doing here with this documentary, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. You see the other side of an once footballing villain, but the other side is certainly gut-wrenchingly emotional. I left the theatre feeling deflated of what had come of a legend in the game – but as an insightful documentary goes… it’s a must-see – especially for this footballing fans of ’86.
Cineroom rating: 4 stars
Diego Maradona is out in the UK now – certificate 12A.