After Emir Kusturica, the British filmmaker Asif Kapadia signed a portrait of the Argentinian champion who has just died at the age of 60. The film, presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, looks back in particular on his time in Naples, between sex, drugs and Mafia.
If in 2008, Diego Maradona made the trip to the Cannes Film Festival for the presentation of a film dedicated to his life, El Pibe de Oro, of Emir Kusturica, in May 2019, Asif Kapadia had not climbed the steps with the football legend who has just died at the age of 60. A painful shoulder had held the football legend away from the Croisette where his portrait entitled “Diego Maradona” was projected, quite simply. Because this name is self-sufficient.
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“In October 2016, I went to Dubai to meet him, remembers Kapadia. He was coaching a team there at the time. I arrive with my two producers and a team to film it. For five days, he spent his time canceling our appointments. I finally managed to see him, but five minutes because he was not feeling well. He offered to take a picture, shook my hand and said: “We’re going to make a great movie.” ”
“Talking about football, no problem. Women, drugs and the mafia, it was more complicated ”
Kapadia leaves empty-handed but begins to make the film without Maradona. He does research on his side, meets the player’s entourage. A year later, he decides to return to Dubai to try his luck again. “I usually do five-hour filmed interviews. With Maradona, it was impossible. He couldn’t stay focused for more than an hour and a half. He got bored very quickly. Every minute counted, you had to get to the point quickly. The second time, I came without a camera. Alone with a sound engineer. I sat down on the floor. He answered my questions. Simply, without doing the show. I understood that this was the correct method. Over the interviews, I asked more and more embarrassing questions. He sent me to graze:“We mustn’t talk about that!”Or he would answer beside it. Talking about football, no problem. Women, drugs and the Mafia, it was more complicated. One day he said to me: “You have the guts to dare to ask these questions to my face.” He paused for a long time before adding:“For that, I respect you. Others talk about me behind my back. ”“
Maradona had a reputation for monetizing the interviews he gave in the media. What about Kapadia? “I did not participate in the negotiations. You should ask my producer. I know Maradona really liked my movie about Senna and the one about Amy winehouse had just won the Oscar for best documentary film ”, replied the British director when we met him. The cinephile Maradona had mandated his lawyers. In the deal, there were 500 hours of incredible and never-before-seen footage. In 1981, the agent of Maradona had indeed hired two cameramen to stick to the shorts of the Argentine player, on and off the field. The idea was to shoot a film to the glory of the young prodigy. “The project never came to fruition, Kapadia explained. I don’t think the two cameramen were ever paid. They kept half of the tapes in Naples. The other half slept in a safe at Maradona’s ex-wife Claudia in Buenos Aires. ”
Naples, where it all begins, where it all ends for Maradona. Kapadia holds his angle. In 1984, the poorest city in Europe recruited the most expensive player in the world. The Argentinian, a kid from the slums and a rising star, has just failed in Barcelona. Napoli is a losers club. In the stadiums of northern Italy, his supporters are greeted with humiliating banners: “Wash yourself”, “Hello mangy dogs”! It will change. Naples wins the championship for the first time in its history, in 1987, thanks to a sparkling Maradona, meanwhile world champion with Argentina in 1986 in Mexico.
Nostalgia for a football full of panache and without VAR. On a wall of the cemetery, this inscription: “We missed something.” Even for the dead, the player becomes a living god. San Paolo Stadium turns into a molten volcano. But in Naples, a dangerous city, he is overtaken by his demons. His extra-marital escapades, his addiction to cocaine and his links with the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia, will cause his downfall. The Giuliano clan covers him with gifts, leads him by the nose, which he has full of powder.
Kapadia makes the archives and witnesses of the time speak to tell this descent into hell. In voiceover, Maradona, pasty mouth, denies everything: “These are lies.” In 1991, the fall is vertiginous. The club and the media let him go. “Maradona’s life and career are a succession of cycles“, Kapadia analysis. He is brilliant, reaches the peaks before tumbling down. He is believed to be dead and he is reborn. He goes up the better to disappoint, and so on. We find these ups and downs in Barcelona, Argentina, Naples, Seville… His last comeback took place at the 1994 World Cup. He played two games before being tested positive.
Serbian Emir Kusturica also wanted to show “The football teacher, the politically incorrect citizen and the family man”.
El Pibe de oro, the first film entirely devoted to Maradona, had the opportunity for the footballer to take a lucid look at his addiction to cocaine. “Instead of doing me good, she locked me in”, he confided, regretting not having seen his daughters grow up. “I have this guilt in me and nothing can take it away”, he added.
A milestone in Maradona’s life, the famous “hand of God” which had enabled Argentina to reach the semifinals of the 1986 World Cup, also largely inspired the seventh art. Celebrated in Amando a Maradona by Javier Vazquez (2005) and in Hero (1987), the 1986 World Cup documentary, it is also the main narrative argument of In the hand of the Gods. This 2007 British documentary features five young football fans, who try to raise money to finance a trip to America where they hope to reach Argentina and meet the football idol. In the same year, the rise and fall of the Argentine genius was also at the center of the biopic of Italian filmmaker Marco Risi, Maradona, the hand of God. “He was a genius who, deep down, throughout his life, only harmed himself”, explained the filmmaker, son of the famous Dino Risi.
Angel or demon ? The cinema has never decided, focusing more on the fascination exerted by the Argentine star and the symbol of a certain era that he represented. So, El Camino de San Diego by Carlos Sorin followed the tribulations of a young lumberjack fan of Maradona in the Argentina of the underprivileged, strangled by the economic crisis of the late 1990s. Beyond a simple film about the footballer, this feature film also had aim to trace “The fate, the beliefs, the doubts that accompanied the Maradona phenomenon”.
After the seventh art, it is the small screen that should soon tackle the Argentine myth. Amazon has just produced a series Maradona, Sueño Bendito (Maradona: the blessed dream) which will retrace the life of the famous number ten, with three actors responsible for playing the footballer at three eras of his tumultuous life.
When the Kapadia documentary came out, Maradona was 58 years old. Shadow of the genius he was, he could then quote George Best, the legendary Manchester United striker, who died at 59: “I spent a lot of money on alcohol, girls and sports cars. The rest, I wasted. “
Diego Maradona, documentary (2h10) by Asif Kapadia, available on all VOD platforms and on DVD (Blaq Out).