Early on in Asif Kapadia’s new documentary on the infamous football star Diego Maradona, his former personal trainer Fernando Signorini delivers a fascinating assessment of his old pupil. Signorini reflects that there are two sides to the man: “Diego,” the kind-hearted and caring figure, the genuine side of him, and “Maradona,” the public persona he developed to deal with the intoxicating fame that surrounded him, a figure who wasn’t afraid of rubbing people the wrong way or stirring up controversy.
And as Kapadia reveals through the course of his film, the “Maradona” side came to dominate him more and more frequently as he struggled with the intensities of success and fortune. We see in extraordinary detail the clamouring intensity of Maradona’s popularity during his career, with the footballer unable to leave his house due to the scrum which formed wherever he went, and we subsequently witness the emotional guard that he was increasingly forced to put up to deal with this level of celebrity.
Of course, Kapadia has already proven himself a dab hand at exploring the troubles of fame, with 2010’s extraordinary Senna tracing the highly successful career of Formula One three-time champion Ayrton Senna before his tragic death at 34, and 2015’s Amy, which presented a personal portrait of the celebrated singer Amy Winehouse before her untimely death at the age of 27.
The big difference then that immediately separates Diego Maradona from Kapadia’s previous docs is that the Argentinian football legend is still alive and (just about) kicking (he has suffered from a number of major health issues and has just stepped down from his managerial position at Mexican side Dorados.) In a recent interview with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo, Kapadia recognized this distinction, reflecting that Diego Maradona is unique in that it instead focuses more on the burden of dealing with past mistakes, and how the legendary footballer has struggled with this.
Kapadia explores this theme throughout the documentary and, through the use of previously unseen archive footage, provides a powerfully intimate insight into the Argentian’s life. Through interviews with numerous key players in Maradona’s life, including his ex-wife Claudia Villafañe and his sister Maria Rosa, we experience both the glory days of his time playing in Naples and his murky fall from grace, his legacy mired by addiction and crime links.
Perhaps unusually for a documentary, the sound design plays a vital role throughout, throwing us into the center of big matches as we feel the roar of the crowd and every crunching tackle (Maradona being the target of most of them). A lot of work was put into recreating the atmosphere of these games and it does wonders for the film, immersing us in the brutal, unforgiving world of 80’s football. The soundtrack elsewhere is also perfectly judged in its reflection of the two sides of Maradona, with the film’s fast paced opening sequence set to Todd Terje’s pumping disco mix of Delorean Dynamite, while the latter scenes of Maradona’s troubled downfall are complemented by Antônio Pinto’s subtly emotional score.
Ultimately, Diego Maradona is a perfect end note to the so-called “trilogy” of Kapadia’s documentaries. Kapadia excels in managing to strike a series of finely-tuned balances between covering Maradona’s triumphs and tribulations, his well-deserved accolades and the many controversies that have surrounded him. Beyond that though, the director also succeeds in managing expectations between people who like football and those who don’t, delivering a perfect equilibrium of footballing thrills and off-field debacles.