The rise and fall of Diego Maradona
Asif Kapadia's homage to the greatest footballer of our time is humbling
If you wanted to live an easy life, you wouldn't make films!" jokes Academy Award winning British filmmaker Asif Kapadia, who has a savant like gift of turning what would otherwise be an over told story into a visual love letter celebrating the humble side of a phenomenal life lived. Known for his gripping documentaries on some of the strongest most controversially complex lives in pop culture, such as Senna (on Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna) and Amy (on singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse), he's now releasing Diego Maradona, which delves into the rise and fall of the retired Argentinean footballer.
'He's big and tough'
"I've watched and played football my whole life, and read a book on Maradona when I was a filmmaking student. His story always intrigued me, and as chance would have it, a producer contacted me in 2015 about reels and reels of footage we could get our hands on to make a film about him," says Kapadia, adding, "But it was a tough three-year journey because I lived in London, he lives in Dubai, the story takes place in Italy and most of the people I needed to interview live in Buenos Aires… so there was a lot of cross-continental travelling!"
The story takes place in Naples, Italy, from 1984-1991, when the infamous footballer doesn't seem to have much going on in his life, but soon sees success winning the 1986 FIFA World Cup and continues to win more titles. But in distinctive Kapadia-style, the documentary starts to unearth a more human, flawed side to the character uncovering problems and complications in his personal life that begin to amount over time.
"He's tough! He's a very challenging character, but also very charming. He's very small, but also big and tough. We never knew what mood he'd be in or if we could entirely rely on his memory because he'd never admit to doing anything wrong. But then, for him, in 2019, to remember every little detail of what happened in 1984 is going to be impossible. To stay accurate, we talked to everyone around him—his ex-wife, his girlfriend, his children, his biographer, his trainer, teammates and journalists… to cross reference everything and tell a true story. There was a struggle between what people were saying compared to what he was saying. Or what he remembered or chose to remember. We reached a point where we'd correct him about his life story," remembers Kapadia.
Asif Kapadia with Diego Maradona. Pic/PVR Pictures
With his curiosity and investigative skills, one almost feels like Kapadia knows his characters better than they know themselves. But getting this close to a person's life and uncovering so much more than what the world has ever seen, where does one draw the line? "There are certain things that fall out of the realm of your film and what you're trying to show. There are certain things you can't corroborate—if one person says it, it doesn't mean it's true. There were moments during Senna where we learnt things that left us thinking for a long time. We had to be very, very careful with Amy because those close to her didn't trust the media and blamed the journalists for her death. It took a long time to build a level of trust because that plays a big part in making these films—to get people to open up," he reminisces, adding, "That's the difference between fiction and documentaries. The main intention is to show something people haven't seen before. You might know the story or you think you know the story, but in reality everyone has a perception that's been formed with the information that's out there."
Blurring the lines between a biography and a drama, Kapadia has reinvented, if not redefined, the idea of a documentary. Senna achieved the highest grossing opening weekend for a documentary in the history of British cinema and went on to achieve three BAFTAs, eclipsed five years later by Amy, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. "A lot of people didn't meet Ayrton Senna. They didn't personally know Amy Winehouse or Diego Maradona. The audience knows the ending—where these people ended up. They know Amy had a problem with alcohol and she died. They know that Senna had a car accident and he died. Maradona became obese and had a drug problem. But they don't understand how these prodigies were so brilliant and achieved so much but still got there. These films are about their journeys, and answer the questions—where did they come from? What happened in their life? How did they make their comeback? What was the psychology behind their choices and decisions; and their relationships and the motivation that makes them end up where they end up. The whole point is to get the viewer to empathise," he says.
Coincidentally, he shot his first feature film, The Warrior, starring Irrfan Khan, in India in Himachal Pradesh, and contemplates coming back to explore a film. "I would love to shoot a fiction film here, probably in the mountains.
After we got married, my wife and I went to Ladakh, and I'm keen on filming something there," he signs off with a curious twinkle in his eye.
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