We are in the golden age for documentary films. Netflix has opened a world, hitherto the domain of niche DVD and arthouse theatre releases, to the living room. Even within this glorious era for non-fictional storytelling (long may it last), British director Asif Kapadia has evolved the humble documentary to a truly cinematic experience. Both his Senna and Oscar-winning Amy films have cemented his name as the master of the cinematic portrait.
Both films are outstanding, but can he surpass them with a piece about Argentina’s mercurial and controversial Number. 10 — Diego Armando Maradona? Kapadia has combed through 500 hours of Maradona’s personal archive to tell this story of this seven year period in his turbulent life. Would being granted this seal of approval by Maradona himself render the film too soft on its subject, and gloss over his many flaws and misdemeanours? Questions.
The film concentrates almost entirely on Maradona’s time in Naples between 1984 and 1991, and is a portrayal of three subjects: (i) The all-too-human Diego, a hugely talented footballer whose dream was to leave Villa Fiorito and buy a house for his parents. (ii) His creation “Maradona” — the only response to the suffocating hero worship he received as a footballer who single-handedly dragged his club and country to improbable trophies, and (iii) The City of Naples — a proud and misunderstood city which was the home to Maradona for 7 years.
Seeing Maradona in motion was poetry, from his ballet-like movement on the pitch to the visceral tackles he received by frustrated opponents. His relationships and interactions with his family, friends, fans, media and mafia all make for spellbinding viewing, and this is mainly due to Maradona himself. He’s just a perfect subject — with facial expressions that capture joy anger and sadness beautifully, but are most sublime when reflecting the inner turmoil of his own mistakes and flaws, and those of the people around him.
The editing of the film into such a tight package is wondrous, early cuts were more than 5 hours long apparently. Chris King has worked with Kapadia for his previous films, and this is clearly a double-act which is going from strength to strength. The soundtrack complements the film very well, with bittersweet original music from Golden Globe nominee Antonio Pinto.
There are only two minor criticisms. Some might consider the sound effect augmentation to stunning video clips a little too obvious. I enjoyed them at first, then they became a little artificial, though never enough for me not to be overwhelmed by the art I was seeing on the pitch. The second point of contention is a little harder to judge. Does Maradona’s seal of approval for Kapadia to use his personal archive render the film less critical of its controversial subject than it could be? Possibly, but at the same time we are able to get a closer portrait than we otherwise might have. And it doesn’t exactly shy away from highlighting his immaturities, his addictions and misdemeanours.
Either way, this is a fantastic film and concludes a glorious trilogy of genius figures, alongside Amy and Senna. It is best seen in the cinema, where the 2 hour 10 minute run time leaves the viewer wanting more. I can’t wait to see which subject Asif Kapadia chooses next.