There’s a great film to be made about Diego Armando Maradona, the worlds best modern footballer. This isn’t it. Instead, until the day comes when this writer gets the opportunity to make ‘Brabin by McMahon’ – the story of underappreciated nineties Doncaster Rovers midfield enforcer Gary Brabin – Maradona by Kusturica is the perfect example of why sycophantic fanboys shouldn’t be given the budget to make films about their idols.
The clue to the nature of this ramshackle documentary lies in the film’s title – this is as much a film about Diego as much as it is about Emir Kusturica himself; more specifically, how the two-time Palme D’or winner allows his adoration for the undisputed football maverick cloud his judgement of an obviously flawed man.
When he’s not demonstrating what a poor journalist he is – the Serbian director fails to raise the issue of the Argentines illegitimate son, his relationship with the Neapolitan mafia whilst playing for Napoli in the 1980’s – the director is busy positioning himself at the very heart of the story. This is ill advised to say the least – the story of Maradona is one so big, there’s little room for a second leading man.
Kusturica fails to make much assent up the face of Mount Maradona – there’s some great archive footage of the young Diego doing keepie-ups that sees the footballer’s older brother describe his sibling as “a Martian”. There’s some latter clips of the broken drug addict who came moments from death in 2005 declaring his love for Fidel Castro with all the synopsis of a Camden market t-shirt slogan. But you get the impression that given the same sort of access – Kusturica reportedly spent three years with the man, on and off – and faced with subject matter as rich as Maradona himself, a video camera lent against a twig would garner the same sort of insight.
Speaking of ill advised, there’s a fair argument that a writer who opens a film review with a reference to themselves shouldn’t accuse another of self importance. Yet until the moment I begin to splice snippets of my past reviews into the body copy of this piece, I’d argue it’s an unfair comparison.
Consider this: as well as opening his film with live footage of his own rock band – No Smoking Orchestra, think a stadium sized Gogol Bordello – in the process allowing himself to be introduced as “the Maradona of cinema” – and even I would blush at that one – the director segues clips from his past work (most notably his first feature film, 1981’s Do You Remember Dolly Bell?) into footage of conversation with Diego.
I think Kusturica is trying to make a point about something, but I really don’t know what. If it’s that he once made a film about someone who caught a train, and Diego once caught a train also, then I think he succeeded. Yet all it does do is serve to dilute from the frustratingly scant on screen time of Diego himself – the awe inspiring God Save The Queen soundtracked goal montages aside – and chop suey the subject’s already askew logic.
Regarding his ban for being caught doping in the 1994 World Cup, respective FIFA presidents Havelange and Blatter are described by Maradona as “the Arms Dealer” and “the Bullet Seller”. Not only that, but apparently his infamous “hand of God” handball against England in the Mexico ’86 quarter-final was revenge for the countries involvement in the Falkland’s war four years prior.
Now, I’m no Terry Butcher. I’m not even that poor guy with the moustache and burnt face. I hold no grudge about such matters. But it’s frustrating that there’s no follow through on Kusturica’s part, no hypothesis. All you really learn about what the director thinks of such revelations is he finds them funny. And that he laughs like a hysterical cartoon mouse. You almost find yourself bellowing at the screen like Maradona vs. Greece at USA ’94; “right, you wanted to be so close to the man. Ask him something!”
The films one true revelation comes in the form of the excellent ‘Church Of Maradona’ sequences – the religious group who view the players 43rd birthday in 2003 as the start of the Year 43 D.D. – ‘Después de Diego’ or After Diego. In these segments we see a bride and groom being given away by a vicar with his hand upon ‘the sacred book’, the man’s 2000 autobiography ‘I am The Diego’. The newlyweds are taught the religions ten commandments – number three: ‘Declare unconditional love for Diego and the beauty of football’ – before they run off and punch a ball into an open goal.
Another open goal: you’d think Kusturica would think to ask the couple why they’ve given their wedding day to Maradona. And another: why the vicar would teach the word of the player rather than God. Like Kusturica’s own amour for the man, we’re left waiting for further analysis – it’s a trait that runs throughout this deeply frustrating film.