Maradona by Kusturica (2009) dir. Emir Kusturica
By Alan Bacchus
It’s a shame this film didn’t turn out any better, but a great filmmaker plus a great sports star doesn’t always equal a good movie. I was reminded of Spike Lee’s portrait of Kobe Bryant from the ESPN 30 for 30 series, Kobe Doin Work. Despite the potential, that film didn’t work. Neither does this.
Eminent director, two-time Palme D’Or winner, sometimes actor, and soccer/football enthusiast Emir Kusturica seeks to discover the man behind the legend of Argentinean soccer star Diego Maradona. To refresh, Maradona is considered one of the greatest footballers ever after his thrilling performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Since then his private life has seen some ups and downs, including a nasty cocaine habit, outspoken politics, his publicly alliance with socialist parties denouncing US and British Imperialism and now as coach of the Argentinean national team.
Kusturica puts himself as a character in the film as pronounced as Maradona’s, Michael Moore-type of participatory narrative. Thus, Kusturica’s discovery is our discovery. Unfortunately Kusturica never cracks the man, and at all times we only get the surface celebrity treatment of Maradona. He’s an experienced celebrity, and being accustomed to cameras for most of his life we get a sense that Maradona is always a step ahead of the filmmaker.
What’s fascinating is the celebatory exaltation which the Argentineans hold for the man. Wayne Gretzky is hailed over here in Canada but he has nothing on this man. A recurring motif is a the Church of Maradona sect which idolizes him so much they literally consider him a God. In between the limo rides the moment Maradona steps outside onto the streets he’s mobbed by the masses and the paparazzi, not just in Argentina but ‘round the world, including Italy where he played a good part of his club football. His trip to Naples in particular provides some magnificent footage. Maradona listening to the loud and consistent chanting from the streets below his hotel room of his Italian fans brings tears to his eyes. It’s a great moment.
Content aside, the film also suffers from surprisingly shoddy technical look and feel. The quality of camera, lens or even camera work feels too amateurish not just for a two-time Palme D’Or winner, but a high profile documentary in the ‘age of documentary’. And mixed in with the verite footage is are rather silly and annoying Gilliamesque animated sequences. These sequences lead into more repitition of the ‘Goal of the Century’ the dramatic 1986 World Cup semi-final goal where Maradona single-handedly dismantled the English squad. Unfortunately we see this goal about 10 times throughout the film thus reducing the effect of the moment.
Sadly Maradona is an uninspired film, from a director and a subject who inspired so many people. Maradona needed a Werner Herzog or Nick Broomfield to really get under his skin and make this memorable.
“Maradona by Kusturica” is available on DVD from TVA Films in Canada