The Argentinian greats Napoli years, chronicled in Asif Kapadias latest, show real pressures of adulation compared to todays walled-away talents
When I sat down in a cinema to watch Emir Kusturicas documentary about Diego Maradona a decade or so ago, I still thought of myself as a Pel man. The Brazilian was the footballer who had dominated my adolescence, which is usually the time of life at which we acquire the heroes to whom we remain in thrall. Kusturicas film made me reconsider that loyalty. He made me think that those who believed Maradona was the greatest footballer of all time might have a point.
It was a mad film about a mad life, starting with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges and finishing with a song from Manu Chao. There was a lot of weird stuff in between. But the Serbian director also included enough football to persuade me that Maradona bent matches to his will in the way no one had done before, and that if we were trying to decide on the very greatest, a stupid but fun thing to do, then this might be the truest measure.
Asif Kapadias new film about Maradona, which opened last week, makes me think again. The director of documentaries about Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse chooses to concentrate on a particular period of the players career, his years with Napoli, which included the 1986 World Cup in which he led Argentina to victory. The before and the after from the childhood in a Buenos Aires slum and the ill-fated arrival in Europe with Barcelona to the bitter defeat to West Germany at San Siro in 1990 and the pathos of his late middle age are also included. But what happened to him from 1984 to 1991, between the ages of 23 and 30, is the only real focus, and Kapadia makes it seem brutally short.
As an admirer of the directors immersive approach to documentary-making, I found it a little overcooked. A film that begins with a lunatic car journey through the streets of Naples seldom takes its foot off the throttle. You could argue that Maradonas life was like that, but it wouldnt be entirely true. Nor was the football he played a constant barrage of thud and crunch, as Kapadia and his sound-effects team make it seem. There was poetry as well as percussion in there, although the director is right to link the two goals against England in the Azteca to the appalling smash to Maradonas face delivered by Terry Fenwick did he really play for England, or was it just a bad dream? earlier in the match.
Kusturica found some poetry when he led the footballer out of a people-carrier and confronted him with Manu Chao leaning against a storefront, strumming a guitar and singing a song about his life: If I were Maradona / I would live like him Maradonas eyes are hidden, but you can sense the play of emotions behind his wraparound shades as he listens to Chao sing about a life of a thousand rockets, a thousand friends.