Dir: Emir Kusturica. France-Spain. 95mins.
As a twice-over Palme d’Or winner, Emir Kusturica might justifiably feel that he too, like Diego Maradona, has been touched by the hand of God. But his loosely-structured documentary portrait of the beleaguered football legend bears out the suspicions suggested by its title: Maradona By Kusturica is indeed practically a large order of Kusturica with a side salad of Maradona.
This video-shot film, which Kusturica started in 2005, is an undisciplined, uncritical and (most unforgivably) un info rmative picture of a legend, by a man who clearly thinks he’s something of a legend himself. The film equivalent of one of those photos in which fans gets to throw an arm round a hero’s shoulders, Maradona By Kusturica should have theatrical life in select showcases, simply because of the enduring veneration in which the former footballer is held worldwide; Kusturica’s own flagging auteur cachet may help, but it certainly won’t be the main appeal.
The project is essentially notable for the director’s interviews with the phenomenal Argentinian legend, notorious for his hand-assisted win against England in the 1986 World Cup final. Here is where Kusturica scores his best insights, with Maradona coming across as affable and a touch addled, but reasonably articulate and these days intensely politicised. Maradona sees the win against England as a great political moment, national revenge for Argentina’s humiliation in the Falklands War. He also enthuses about his hero Fidel Castro, and comes clean about the cost of his own lengthy and debilitating cocaine addiction, which saw him miss much of his two daughters’ childhoods.
He also offers a poignantly ironic insight when Kusturica asks him which film star he would have liked to be. He answers Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, apparently not making a conscious connection with that film’s subject, a sportsman’s ignominious decline.
As an interviewer, Kusturica is at his best when he sits back and listens, but wastes too long chuckling indulgently at his subject’s jokes, seemingly just thrilled to be basking in his presence. Aside from the interviews, he spends much time in the footballer’s company, revealingly capturing riot-like conditions when adoring crowds mob their hero in Naples, or watching him act as figurehead at an anti-Bush rally. Other footage offers vague insights into Maradona’s background and culture: notably a visit to a lapdancing club that he favours and a glimpse of Buenos Aires ’ tango culture.
But there’s altogether too much of Kusturica in the film. The opening sequence features the director playing guitar on stage with his rock band. In voice-over he even compares Maradona to characters in several of his own films, clips of which are spliced in liberally, to not very illuminating effect. The director’s hyperbolic, digressive musings - comparing Maradona to the Mesopotamian god Gilgamesh, or offering his own woolly readings of South American politics - are a sometimes risible distraction.
Typical Kusturica overstatement runs rampant. Not content with comparing Maradona to the Sex Pistols, he repeatedly plays the band’s ‘God Save The Queen’ over rather ugly animated sequences in a sub-Terry Gilliam style, showing the player scoring goals against the likes of Margaret Thatcher, George Bush and Tony Blair (in schoolboy shorts and devil’s horns). Maradona is also seen gamely, and amusingly, singing a rock ballad about his own glorious career and downfall in a quavering voice (possibly the worst ever football song not actually recorded by British players).
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Rodrigo Pulpiero Vega
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