Maradona by Kusturica

Cannes Film Festival

Kaleem Aftab
Wednesday 21 May 2008 13:03
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The England versus Argentina ‘hand of God’ match dominates this engaging documentary about Diego Armando Maradona the man rather than the footballer.

The clue to the perspective of this documentary is in the title; this is Maradona as the two-time Palme D’or winner Emir Kusturica sees him. In the director’s eyes Maradona can do no wrong and is practically a living God. The director’s voiceover that punctuates archive footage and interviews with Maradona even finds excuses for the world cup winner’s obvious faults from his cocaine abuse to neglecting his family. In the same manner as the England team in the Mexico ‘86 quarterfinal, the remarkable number 10 is treated with deference. It’s the director’s good fortune that everything about Maradona rags-to-riches tale of a fallen anti-hero is classic Hollywood material.

Kusturica is as big a character in the film as the retired footballer and is introduced as the “Maradona of cinema”. It’s an analogy that just about works, not because Kusturica can make any claim to being the greatest director that ever lived – he clearly isn’t – but that his sporadic unpredictable cinematic style bounces between highs and lows like the Argentine’s personal life. It’s amusing to see how meek the usually flamboyant director is in the presence of Maradona. Maradona is introduced at an anti-Bush rally in 2005 during a period when his weight ballooned and he almost lost his life through drug abuse. It speaks volumes of the turbulence of everything that surrounds Maradona’s life that this doc has taken three years to complete.

Kusturica uses the win against England as the springboard to highlight the anti-imperialist political rhetoric that Maradona is seen spouting most of the time a microphone is put in front of him. He also shows off the Fidel Castro tattoo that now graces the finest left peg to set foot on a football pitch and talks about the victory against England as revenge for the Falklands war. However Clumsy reductive filmmaking techniques don’t help the politicking, Kusturica keeps on cutting to an animation sequence that shows Maradona on the football field bamboozling British and American political figures in turn, Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles and the Queen, Tony Blair, Ronald Reagon and George W Bush are all bamboozled to the soundtrack of the Sex Pistol’s God Save the Queen.

Initially the director’s access is so limited that two years after he started the project he is shown complaining that he still hasn’t come close to understanding the man. Thankfully Kustirica doesn’t resign himself to simply depicting the Argentina as an enigma and he’s rewarded as Maradona finally opens up once he’s overcome his drug addiction and lost some girth.

Those looking for a biography of the footballer’s life and football career are in for a big disappointment and should seek out the detailed autobiography I Am Maradona, which is used as a double for a bible by the Church of Maradona. The church is the great find of this documentary. The religion revolves around the footballer; to be baptised you have to score a "hand of God" goal and their Lord’s Prayer has hilarious Maradona related verse.

The director is not a good journalist. There is much that Kusturica chooses not to discuss with the man he idolises. Maradona doesn’t talk about his illegitimate son, his relationship with the Neapolitan mafia or anything about his career in Barcelona. It also pays to have some knowledge of the midfield maestro when montage sequences of Maradona on the football field are shown. The most preposterous moment is when Kusturica in all seriousness says that analysing Maradona play football could be as valuable for understanding the human condition as the works of Freud and Jung. Kusturica should have no trouble joining the church of Maradona.

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