Empire (Australasia) - - CONTENTS - TERRI WHITE

Ah, the ge­nius foot­baller who scored the Hand Of God goal. Luck­ily, we had God in our Fan­tasy Foot­ball team and got the points for the as­sist.

OUT 25 JULY RATED M / 130 MINS DIREC­TOR Asif Ka­pa­dia CAST Diego Maradona

PLOT How a poor Ar­gen­tinian boy be­came Diego Maradona — one of the great­est and most con­tro­ver­sial foot­ballers of the 1980s. It’s a saga with it all: women, drugs, fame and de­spair. But does it have any­thing new to add to a story the world knows so well? THE OPEN­ING OF Diego Maradona cuts right to the chase: with a lo-fi set­piece of the foot­baller driv­ing through Naples the day he signed for the club

— the high point of his gal­lop­ing, gid­dy­ing rise in the beau­ti­ful game. But, as becomes clear: not ev­ery­thing about the game, or those who play it, is beau­ti­ful.

Os­car-win­ning direc­tor Asif Ka­pa­dia has es­tab­lished his not-in­signif­i­cant skill at re­veal­ing the truth about fame and the individual­s that pay the great­est price. Specif­i­cally what hap­pens when the gap be­tween their pub­lic and pri­vate selves threat­ens to swallow them whole. First with his films about Ayr­ton Senna and Amy Wine­house, Senna and Amy, and now with new doc­u­men­tary Diego Maradona.

It’s a tra­di­tional, by-the-numbers arc in many re­spects: poor boy from the slums to mil­lion­aire sports­man via the sal­va­tion found at the end of his feet. The ma­jor dif­fer­ence on his third out­ing: the sub­ject is still very much alive.

The film has ar­guably more in com­mon with Senna than Amy, with a nar­ra­tive back­bone erected from pub­lic footage and in­ter­views of­fer­ing a nar­ra­tion. You see Maradona on the pitch, at par­ties, en­dur­ing loud, chaotic press con­fer­ences with jour­nal­ists jeer­ing in front and fans scream­ing over­head. You fol­low him through his trou­bled start at Barcelona, to the heart of the film: his life in Italy, where he achieved a god-like sta­tus; a verg­ing-onun­bear­able ma­nia erupt­ing around him. The glory he hun­gered for — it’s clear — is both the best and worst thing that could have ever hap­pened to him.

The pic­ture Ka­pa­dia paints is pin­sharp: the unimag­in­able strain of a very un­real life on a very nor­mal man. It’s clear how his fall from grace, when it came, could never have been any­thing but bru­tal. And while the ge­nius on the grass is clear, what is less clear is what hap­pens off the pitch.

Ka­pa­dia had access to 500 hours of never-be­fore-seen footage from Maradona’s per­sonal ar­chive but still, it feels un­der­used and nar­ra­tively slight — lit­tle flesh be­ing added to the bones. Maradona’s pri­vate world, true, in­ner­most feel­ings, only briefly com­ing to the fore. There are quick flashes of the strain and pain that ei­ther turned him onto drugs or ac­cel­er­ated his de­scent; that led him into the arms of the lo­cal Mafia, that saw him deny his own son.

And though Maradona is in­ter­viewed, he is un­able to re­ally speak to a deeper per­sonal truth; to of­fer the tex­ture you so des­per­ately want. This is, af­ter all, a man who, post the 1990 Argentina versus Italy World Cup match in Naples, was hated by pretty much an en­tire coun­try. One that had ar­guably given him ev­ery­thing. There’s a lit­tle more sub­stance of­fered by his exwife, whose in­ter­view fills in a few blanks.

Still, the fi­nal act, though noth­ing new, is brief and dev­as­tat­ing — Maradona phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, a shadow of him­self. The tragedy is clear and keenly felt.

The re­sult is im­pres­sive film­mak­ing, with the usual pre­ci­sion and in­tel­li­gence of edit­ing. But you never truly get to who Maradona is. He comes into fo­cus and re­cedes again, leav­ing you with a full pic­ture of the myth, if not the man.

VER­DICT A compelling, tragic life of gang­sters, glory, goal-scor­ing and ad­dic­tion — told with flair, if not with full sub­stance, by a mas­ter sto­ry­teller.

‘El Pibe de Oro’. Beats ‘Gold­en­balls’.

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