Diego Maradona shifts uncomfortably in his chair. His face twitching as he attempts to find the right words in reply to the charge that he is the father to a child born in a hospital in Naples. When the words come they constitute a hazy, awkward denial. He has not long returned to Italy to play club football after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, and it is clear that the ease in which the diminutive genius dribbled around his opponents on the field does not come quite so easily off it.
It proves to be a telling moment in Asif Kapadia’s fine documentary – the supposed final part of a loose trilogy which follows on from the celebrated Senna and the Oscar-winning Amy. “When things start to go badly wrong for him, it’s when he denies his son,” Kapadia has said. And it is hard to deny it based on the retelling as told by the director, who has laboured through 500 hours of archive material to present Maradona’s spectacular rise and dramatic fall: from messiah to pariah, only to eventually land somewhere in between.
He is able to do so with fresh insight from the man himself, as well as key players in his turbulent tale. In keeping with house style, there is no break from the archive. Thankfully, the footage is never less than illuminative. We are led through Maradona’s revelatory contribution to Napoli, charting their ascent from minnows within the Italian top division to Scudetto-winning and Europe-conquering giants.
Success in the beautiful game pumps the city’s veins with adrenaline, and turns Naples into a cauldron of Maradona mania. Murals in the street depict him, quite literally, as a God. And with somewhat sad predictability, the vultures descend. The Camorra, whose grip on the city is well-known, are seen to get their claws into Naples’ adopted son, whose achilles heel turns out to be cocaine and skirt-chasing. They have a handle on both.
Diego Maradona is a cautionary tale of a different shade to the likes of Amy partly due to the subject’s own testimony. Do we get closer to knowing the real Diego Maradona? Not really. While arbitrary distinctions are made by observers between “poor boy Diego” and an emergent superstar alter-ego Maradona, Kapadia falls short of providing us with much that is tangible on either. Both Diego and Maradona – and therefore ultimately Diego Maradona – remain an enigma: an inscrutable yet cartoonish figure. A man whose experiences with the sharp edges of fame’s fickle fervour has left a legacy tainted, reputation tarnished, and yet ensured that the glimmer of his star is undimmed.
If he were not still here to tell the tale, you would likely think he was a myth. He is still here though, and this absorbing, entertaining and well-constructed film may fail to expose the man for who he really is, but it certainly adds more allure to his legend. Against all the odds, and with the bar set imposingly high after Senna and Amy, Kapadia can keep the match ball. He has his hat trick.