Diego Maradona film entertains but leaves us wanting more

Asif Kapadia’s trilogy of documenting child geniuses and fame comes to an end with Diego Maradona. The film focuses on the Argentinian’s Napoli years and does an excellent job chronicling Maradona’s tumultuous time in Italy.

The Academy Award-winning director stated in June he initially thought about making a movie about the mercurial icon around 1998-99 when he was reading a book about him. But it wasn’t until he completed his documentaries on Brazilian Formula One legend Ayrton Senna and British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse that the idea of making a film on the Villa Fiorito native entered his mind again.

“So this kind of project came and went and came and went a few times, and by the time it came around again post-Amy, it was like, well I’ve made these two films about these two brilliant geniuses who died really young, so if I going to do a third one it needs to be different, and actually, what happens when you get old? What happens when you lose the gift you had, you lose your talents, you have to deal with some of the mistakes you’ve made in your life? How do you deal with growing up?” Kapadia said to The Independent.

Over 500 hours of never seen before footage from Maradona’s personal archives were at the disposal of the Honorary Associate of London Film School. Kapadia also had a team of researchers in Argentina and Italy to uncover as many details as possible. The process took about three years. The film also features interviews of the four-time Argentine Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year’s ex-wife Claudia Villafane, sister Maria Rosa, personal trainer Fernando Signorini, former teammate Ciro Ferrara, many journalists who covered him and even the scorer of FIFA’s Goal of the Century himself.

The first five minutes quickly encapsulates the first 23 years of Maradona’s life. You see glimpses of his time at Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors and Barcelona. Pele makes an appearance and says Maradona has all the physical gifts and technical ability to be an all-time great but he lacks the mentality. A newspaper headline says Barcelona is tired of the 1983 Copa Del Rey winner’s night life. The severe ankle injury he suffered from Athletic Bilbao center-back Andoni Goikoetxea’s tackle is shown as well as his involvement in the fight during the 1984 Copa Del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. His time for the Blaugrana ended so badly that only one team was interested in him, Napoli, a team that had never won a league title before. What continues for the next hour and 55 minutes is a beautiful depiction of the ups and downs he encountered in Naples.

If given more time to explore Maradona in a docuseries format, his life before and after Napoli could’ve been expounded on. To depict someone as erratic Maradona is a difficult task and the filmmaker even met with people who told him how tough it would be.

“He’s impossible to nail down because he just keeps going, whenever you think you’ve got an ending, something else will come along. You think OK, maybe it’s this and then he’ll do something else and something else. I’ve met his biographers and journalists who followed him for decades, and they said ‘good luck.’ That became my question when we were making the film – so where do you think this story ends? – And they were just laughing because you can’t do it,” said Kapadia to The Independent.

Kapadia’s argument makes sense if you’re trying to tell the story of the 58-year-old in two hours but as he said in multiple interviews, Maradona’s angle was supposed to be different because the first two films in his trilogy were about two people who passed away when they were young, Senna was 34 and Winehouse was 27, but Maradona grew to become a grandfather. There’s no mention of his life after football which was very eventful. It included failing a drug test at the 1994 World Cup and ending his playing career back at Boca Juniors. The 1986 World Cup Golden Ball winner also continued to be involved with the game by managing. Most notably, he was in charge of Argentina and his spiritual successor Lionel Messi in the 2010 World Cup when they lost to Germany 4-0 in the quarterfinals. As of today, Maradona is the head coach for Argentinian team Gimnasia de La Plata.

It also does not cover the child genius angle of Maradona at all. At the time when Maradona made his debut for Argentinos Juniors, he was the youngest player in the history of the Argentine Primera Division (it was 10 days before his 16th birthday). His sister mentions that at 15, the two-time South American Player of the Year became the breadwinner of the family and it’s remained that way up to today. That’s immense pressure to put on someone at such a precocious time.

There’s also no mention of when he was excluded from Cesar Luis Menotti’s Argentina side that won the 1978 World Cup on home soil. Maradona in the documentary says that winning the 1986-87 Serie A title is the biggest moment of his life because he wasn’t on the La Albiceleste team that won in 1978. Also the 1982 World Cup isn’t mentioned at all.

Novices, casual fans and even soccer fanatics will learn so much and appreciate the storytelling Kapadia provided with the film. But with more time, the definitive story of Diego Armando Maradona’s life could’ve been told instead of just his time in Naples.

The documentary debuts on Tuesday, October 1 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which is available on AT&T TV Now and as an add-on to Hulu + Live TV.

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