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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 

 

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Diego Maradona, Review: Feet of gold, hand of God

Diego Maradona, Review: Feet of gold, hand of God

Amy got him the Academy Award. Senna got him the BAFTA. And now, Diego Maradona has raked in £ 2.2 mn, since its release in June, which is a welcome collection for any docu-feature. Asif Kapadia has now won three matches in a row. And by convincing margins, at that.

By definition, a documentary appeals to niche audiences only. Though football is the most popular team sport in the world, it is not the numero uno sport in India, unlike Argentina and Italy, where the film is set. This writer readily confesses his affinity towards cricket over football. Now if a biopic about football’s God (or twin God, or secondary deity, as Pele—Brazilian--supporters might insist) can wow a cricket aficionado, for whom football is a no-ball, that film has got be good. Real good.

Claim to God-hood emanates from an enviable record: Club football: 491 matches, 259 goals; National team: 91 matches, 34 goals. No wonder Diego Armando Maradona was called El Pibe (kid/lad/urchin) de Oro (golden). Diego Maradona documents and centres around the time Maradona switched sides from FC Barcelona to S.S.C. Napoli (Naples), in 1984, eventually winning the 1988–89 UEFA Cup, with the Italian team. He got his team the Seria-A title twice, but, during a roller-coaster of a career, also experienced various personal problems and controversies. It then proceeds to mark out the milestones in his career, until 1991, after which we are given two updates, bringing us to a key point in the narrative, circa 2015. Maradona will turn 60 later this month.

One huge controversy emerged at the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico. After eliminating old rival Uruguay, Argentina was set to face England in the quarter-finals. Just 4 minutes after launching his team to a 1-0 lead by scoring with his hand--an incident which he later called the "Hand of God"--Maradona did something even more unimaginable. He received the ball in the Argentinian half, and then ran past five English players, before beating the goalkeeper—GOAL!!!!!!! Eleven touches, 60 metres. Little wonder then that this particular goal is remembered as the goal of the century.

The concept of making a film on Maradona came after Kapadia released Amy (2015). Asif opted on Naples as being the centrepiece for the film. During 2012, producer Paul Martin discovered precious archival footage about Maradona. The idea to document Maradona’s life had begun in 1981, by his agent, Jorge Cyterszpiler. This led to two Argentine cameramen recording hundreds of hours of film. However, the film never got made. In Buenos Aires, more archival footage was discovered in the home of Maradona’s ex-wife Claudia (she is not shown as an ex-wife in the film, which presents her status only during their years together) in a trunk, untouched, for 30 years.

There was high drama both on the field and off it, and the ‘hand of God’ goal was just one such incident. Despite his success on the field, Maradona's personal life was getting worse and worse. He seemed to have connections with the Giuliano clan, a powerful part of the Camorra crime syndicate and was seen on a party arranged by the boss Carmine Giuliano. Giuliano apparently arranged supplies of cocaine and whores, both drugs and woman becoming Diego’s addictions. The film reveals that Maradona would binge till Wednesday, and then work out real hard till the weekend, in time for the next match. In fact, he was harbouring a cocaine addiction since the mid-80's. Eventually, this did impede his ability to play football. The World Cup final, in 1990, was held in Italy, and where Argentina played against the home nation, in Napoli. The Neapolitans were saluting their idol, and yet, many of them had a hard time deciding which team they favoured. All this trauma is effectively portrayed in the docu-drama.

Another aspect of his life concerns Cristiana Sinagra, with whom, according to the film, he had casual, unprotected sex, but other records paint her as his mistress. She had given birth to a baby boy in 1986, without public knowledge, a child that Diego denied fathering to for a long time, to Claudia and to the world. Following a failed drug test for cocaine, Maradona finally left Napoli in 1991. He got a 15-month suspension, part of which was attributed to drug-peddling, because he had given cocaine to some prostitutes. Even during this period, his drinking and cocaine abuse continued, until he finally accepted a detoxification programme, and, soon afterwards, began to train again.

Born in the poorest quarter of Buenos Aires, and not gifted with an athletic built, not even tall, the black legend rose to dizzy heady heights, quite like the header goals that he either scored or helped score. Incidentally, why is he always referred to as ‘black’? His skin is whiter than many who might be categorised as brown. Maybe it is used to denote his birth and upbringing. Maradona's last club was Boca Juniors (1995-1997), before he blew his final whistle as a player. But 37 was too early an age for him to quit the game altogether. Coaching assignments came up, and the last of them was in 2008, when he took over as the coach of the Argentinian national team. He kept that position until the 2010 World Cup, when it was finally Adios.

A documentary evolves as it is first researched and then shot, with research continuing during shooting, leading to many discoveries and re-mappings. Writing credit goes to the director himself. Due credit to him for selecting the right people to interview and keeping most of the dialogue-track in Spanish, with generous sub-titles, giving it the authentic feel the film deserved.

Again, in a docu-feature, the importance of editing and music can never be over-emphasised. Excellent contributions are served on these counts by Chris King (who edited both Amy and Senna) and Antônio Pinto. King makes sure that the 130 minutes (a football game normally lasts 120 minutes) are riveting and engrossing fare, cutting to top angle stadium shots when a transition is required and getting back to the precise footage of the goals being scored, when it’s time to get to the meat of the story.

Antônio Gontijo Alves Pinto, a 42 year-old Brazilian, son of the famous cartoonist Ziraldo and the brother of film-maker Daniela Thomas, is another Kapadia loyalist, who makes it three in a row for the partnership, scoring with a pulsating rhythm and pieces of mood music, varying as the situation demands. Of course, football being a lightning fast game, the frenetic beats are designed to keep recurring, to keep you on the edge of your seat.

There are the World Cup, UEFA Cup, Copa América, Bundesliga, Primeira Liga, La Liga, and the EPL, to name a some of the oldest and most reputed football competitions and leagues. Then there is Diego Maradona, the movie. As a football fan, you cannot afford to miss any of the above. On the other hand, if football does not get your adrenaline pumping, Asif Kapadia’s film might.

Rating: *** ½

Trailer: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/film-trailers/diego-maradona-official-trailer-1.3909417

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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