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Kapadia's Latest Film 'Diego Maradona' Examines Soccer Legend


I want to travel with you to Naples, Italy, in this raucous crowd.


GREENE: This is a city that had faced years of discrimination and racism from fellow Italians. Some called Naples the country's sewer. But here, in the 1980s, Naples was celebrating its hero, a man named Diego Maradona.


ASIF KAPADIA: This is a story about a guy and a city. Really, those are the two characters. It's about the perfect match between the kind of very dysfunctional character and a very dysfunctional city, which at the time, in Europe, was one of the poorest places in Europe, one of the most violent places. There's a serious gang war going on between different gangs. Cocaine is everywhere. And the most expensive soccer player in the world ends up at one of the poorest clubs in Europe.

GREENE: That's the voice of the film director Asif Kapadia. His new documentary, "Diego Maradona," follows one of the world's most talented and tragic soccer stars. Maradona, an Argentinean soccer prodigy, was bought by Naples' soccer club in the 1980s. And Naples became addicted to the glory he brought them.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Diego. Diego. Diego. Diego. Diego. Diego. Diego.

KAPADIA: But it's kind of a love-hate relationship. You know, they need each other. They do great things together. But everything that is dark that is in that city - he will then be drawn to, and that will mess him up, you know. He will come out broken.

GREENE: Diego Maradona is just the kind of complicated life that fascinates Asif Kapadia. He did an Oscar-winning film about the British music star Amy Winehouse. As for Diego Maradona, well, the filmmaker says he lived a life of extremes from the beginning.

KAPADIA: He's from, you know, what we would know as slums or favelas, that type of place on the outskirts of Buenos Aires - very poor, you know, no running water, no electricity, large family living in a shack- you know, that's his background - eight of them in total.

And he, from a very young age, becomes the breadwinner. From a age of about 15, he's the reason why his family get a home, get a door key for the first time in their lives. His dad was a very much a kind of manual worker. His mom brought up the kids. So part of it, for him, was he played in order to get his mum a home and get them out of poverty.

GREENE: Which is, like, to me, is just learning about him, the maddening part. Like, you love him so much, and he wants to do the right thing by his family. And then there are moments in his life and his career that makes you just hate him so much.

KAPADIA: This is why he's interesting for me, you know. The reason why I'm interested in these characters is because they're not just these good guys. He is this kind of two sides of the same coin. Football, famously, like we call it, you know, it's a game of two halves. So half Diego, you got his kind of angel, really nice, sweet guy - really, really endearing and cares about his family.

And then on the other side, he has a dark side. He has an edge. He - you know, he does drugs. He hangs around with gangsters. He gets into prostitution. You know, he denies his own child. So you've got this guy who's a genius, but he's a cheat.

GREENE: It's really two different people - Diego and Maradona. Kapadia says Diego, this poor kid from Argentina, had to create an entirely different persona to deal with the overwhelming weight of that much fame. As time went on, that alter ego, Maradona, began to take over.

KAPADIA: So if you look at the young man who arrives in 1984 and then you look at the man that leaves seven years later, he's changed so much. He's broken. He's really out of shape. And he leaves as an addict as well, which is a problem he has to deal with for the rest of his life. But even now, you know, he's really struggling with this.

I would say, you know, while I was making the film, I met him. He was living in Dubai at a time. So I interviewed him about four or five times, went to his home. And I did feel, you know, towards the ending, that the person I was meeting and talking to was at one end of the spectrum of the kind of Maradona scale.

But it was - it made it quite complicated because he would essentially deny anything was wrong, or he wouldn't want to talk about certain things. Even if I just brought up a person's name, he's like, don't talk about her. I never want to hear about her. She's a liar. OK.


KAPADIA: And that's, like, his ex-wife, you know. OK. These are like my easy questions on Day 1. So with him, what we found is that he has a particular way of existing and living - is he never looks back. He never admits he's made a mistake. And that is what his trainer, Signorini, says in the film. That's kind of full Maradona. He's never able to show weakness.

GREENE: There was such intimacy, I mean, seeing his face in moments. I mean, some of the moments of silence just looking at his face were the most powerful. And I know it took you something like three years to make this film and collect all of this. How did you manage to uncover all of that footage?

KAPADIA: Yes. So this is a key part of this film. There's a cameraman who had all of these tapes on this old format called U-matic in the back of his house which had never been seen for 30 years.

GREENE: How'd he get - how did this guy have all this footage sitting there?

KAPADIA: So he transpires that Diego Maradona's first agent when he was young, Jorge Cyterszpiler, in Argentina - he's like, this kid's going to be a star. So at the time, you know, they were still trying to break soccer in the U.S. You know, late '70s, early '80s, there was still this idea that football was going to become big in the USA. So he thinks, if I make a movie about this young kid, I'll be able to break America.

So in 1981, he hires two Argentinian cameraman to follow Diego Maradona around, on the pitch and off the pitch. And then they go on to Naples, and they keep filming him through Naples.


KAPADIA: But the agent then gets fired by Diego. The cameraman probably were never paid for doing all their work, so they run off with the tapes. The tapes get kind of split somewhere around the world. There's these rumors that the tapes are out there, but no one's been able to do a deal with the cameramen and with Diego. And my producers were able to do both.

GREENE: Does he know that firing that guy, like, inadvertently gifted you a lot of this footage?

KAPADIA: Do you know? I've had these conversations with him, but he hasn't seen the film yet. Diego...

GREENE: I was going to ask you...

KAPADIA: ...Hasn't seen the film yet.

GREENE: ...He hasn't seen it?

KAPADIA: Yet - there's still time. One day, when he sees the film, maybe he'll understand how we put this all together. What I should say is that everyone around him - his trainer, Signorini, his biographer, Daniel Arcucci, his ex-wife, his girlfriends, his children - everyone around him, I've shown the film to, and they all say it's honest. It's tough, but it's very honest. And so they've all given it the thumbs up.

GREENE: Is it important for you that he sees it at some point?

KAPADIA: The honest truth is, as time goes by, I kind of feel less and less important because, you know, he is Diego Maradona. And he just will never do what you expect him to do. And with Maradona, it was always going to be tricky to get his reaction.

GREENE: Well, best of luck with the film. And thanks so much for talking to us.

KAPADIA: Great to be on. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).


GREENE: Sound there from one of his many goals. We were talking to the film director Asif Kapadia. His new film is called "Diego Maradona." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.