Highs and Lows – Maradona by Kusturica

maradona

Coming to the end of 2014, Fikri Jermadi decided to close a book first opened six years ago.

This is something of an unfinished bit of business for me. ‘Maradona by Kusturica’ was a film I first previewed six years ago, when it was screening for the first time at the 2008 Cannes International Film Festival. This was what I wrote at the time: “Emir Kusturica has everything that a director could ever hope to make a definitive biography of anyone: great access to [Diego] Maradona himself, as well as the extensive footage of his career.” I’m happy to report that I am not mistaken on that front, for I feel this is one of the defining films on the life of a great player.

I say defining, because though I am fairly familiar with a lot of the issues surrounding the man, rarely have I seen everything pulled together in this manner. Filmed almost like a travelogue, with Kusturica himself as the traveler making headway into the supposed unknown, the film is a mixture of documentary footage, interviews, archive material and…zany animations of Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush and others. Why?

"I'll be there for you...when the rain starts to fall..."
“I’ll be there for you…when the rain starts to fall…”

Football, generally speaking, is as much a product of the politics of its time as it is an honest and sincere sporting endeavour, designed to inculcate young men with proper discipline. Dig around deep enough, and you will find enough political material anywhere in the world to make you wonder whether the chicken came first before the egg. In this case, there are few figures in the world sport that divide opinions quite like Maradona, not just for his famous skills and goals, but also for the forthright views he holds.

One example of this would be a scene, during which I suspect Kusturica met Maradona for one of the first times. They sit down to talk, in the middle of a fairly loud party, and as he talks, we also see footage of Maradona scoring the Goal of the Century, a slalom run around English players in the 1986 World Cup. Edited along with this are images from the Falkland Islands war; in the context of the goal, it was happened only some years before that. You don’t need subtitles understand what Maradona was talking about, and why that goal meant so much to him.

You do need it in other areas, though. Kusturica and Maradona do not share a common speaking language, so everything was done through a translator, which is then translated for us for this film. Specifically, the director stated his intention to look at Maradona as the footballer, as the political animal, and as the man. As the footballer, we know much of his impact; here, I reviewed how five young men crossed continents just for the chance to meet him.

As he surveys the madness, he wonders what he has done...
As he surveys the madness, he wonders what he has done…

Politically, too, the film comes in at just the right time. Maradona, Venezuelan supremo Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia joined forces to address huge crowds in protesting against the presence of Bush and the United States at the 4th Summit of the Americas in 2005. The film made good use of the footage, as well as the street protests by demonstrators. As such, the film itself developed to become something of a political animal in its own right; shaped by his own contexts, Kusturica was not above making a political point or two of his own.

He is lucky, though, for he followed Maradona around the right time (it was also around this time that Maradona had his own talk show). Having said that, what he had pieced together required a lot of skill and imagination. I especially like the excerpts taken from his own film, which seems to suggest a strong parallel between fact and fiction. In that regard, it was appropriate, given how the excesses of Maradona’s life makes it difficult for outsiders to truly discern one from the other.

What I find to be most interesting, though, is the more personal perspective. We see scenes of Maradona returning to the house and housing area he grew up in, one that had fallen into much disrepair. The contrast between his humble beginnings and ascendancy to the very top was striking, and to see him collect his thoughts and considered words for expression at what was a very emotional point in his life was striking. He is an emotional man, but rarely is he left tongue-tied.

"And here's one I made earlier!"
“And here’s one I made earlier!”

As such, it is moments like these that makes this slightly different from other films featuring Maradona as their subject matter. True, El Diego himself has always spoken from the heart, but the kind of access granted to his more personal space makes for a unique addition to the Maradona canon. Kusturica, for example, spoke of his interaction with Maradona’s ex-wife, Claudia. “How did he survive all these years?” he asked. The response was striking, for I imagined it delivered with quiet fierceness: “Nobody asked me how I survived all these years.”

Fikri is glad to close that book. Many more to go, though…

Feature image credit: Sidelines / Cadaverexquisito

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