Maradona: Interview with Emir Kusturica

Cannes Film Fest 2008–In “Maradona,” Emir Kusturica celebrates the incredible story of Diego Maradona: sports hero, living god of football, brilliant artist, champion of the people, fallen idol and inspiration to millions throughout the world. From Buenos Aires to Naplesas well as CubaEmir Kusturica traces the life of his extraordinary man, from his humble beginnings to his worldwide fame, from the most spectacular rise to the tragic fall. It's a unique documentary about the player of the century, filmed by his greatest fan.

Why did you want to make a film about Maradona

The first reason is that I am one of the millions of people around the world who jumped with joy when he scored his two goals against England in 1986. That game exemplifies justice in the world for the first and last time. Argentina and Serbia are two countries who have been crushed by the IMF. Argentina and Serbia fight against the IMF, which is a Western power. Therefore, I feel closeness with Maradona. Moreover, Maradona is very popular in Serbia, our football resembles that of the Argentinians. Sometimes its said that Im the Maradona of cinema. The second reason is that I read some books that came out about him, some newspaper articles, I listened to the radio, and each time I found that the authors were not doing him justice.

Youre interested in the rebel more than the player

Thats part of it. The idea formed at the time of this summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, in Argentina, when Maradona spoke to criticize Bush. I found that very powerful. But one mustnt forget the magnificent player. I still remember the first time that I heard about him, in 1979, at the Junior World Cup in Tokyo. He did some amazing things. Recently, he came to see us in Serbia, to tell us about the goal he scored with Barcelona against Red Star Belgrade. A pure moment of genius.

In Black Cat, White Cat, your character Matko the Gypsy plays cards alone, still cheats, wins a game and cries out: Maradona!

My idea was to ive the feeling of ultimate victory. In the beginning, the actor cried out Goal! And then, stronger thatn Goal! there is Maradona!, because a goal by Maradona is above that, its not just any goal.

When did you choose to make a documentary rather than fiction

Because it was necessary to make a portrait. A portrait is the truth. And yet, its exactly what I criticize other films about Maradona: they use him to tell another story. In the end, they miss the impact that he had on the whole world. Maradona is a true story, theres no need to add fiction.

Is Diego Maradona a true film character

As an actor, hes an incredible entertainer. He was born for the show. But its more than that. If Andy Warhol had lived in our era, he would have been painting Diego instead of Marilyn. If Maradona hadnt been a football player, he would have found another way to become a star and he would have succeeded. Maradona is an icon. Without a doubt, the biggest icon of the past twenty or thirty years. And its not a popularity manufactured by the media, or Coke, or Pepsi, like the present-day players. Today, you cant even take a piss without seeing an ad for Coke or Pepsi.

Maradona made an ad for Pepsi and Coke

Perhaps, but in a minor way. What I want to say is that Maradona has become an icon, due to his games and his goals. Not because of what he did off the field. Of course he had sponsors, he made ads, but that came later. For a player like Beckhamwhos a good playerits the opposite: its what he does off the field that made him so famous. His games, less so.

How did you come into contact with Diego

Through the production. In the beginning, he wasnt very keen. I think that hes a bit fed up with all these media requests. Sometimes, he likes to be quiet. But as he also has another side of his personality that irremediably draws hi towards the media, he finally said yes.

He had seen your films

No. But I believe that he had already heard about me.

Was it easy to film him

Its a bit complicated. Sometimes, he forgets his duties and responsibilities. Once, we came to Argentina, he had forgotten, and we missed him. Thats why Ive been working on this film such a long time, for several years. With Diego, one time its yes, one time its no.

Did you discover anything about him that surprised you

My intuition was that he was intelligent, now I am certain. By speaking with himand we still speak on a regular basis todayI discovered that he was much more mature than people were led to believe. Particularly at the political level. He rallied behind Christina Kirchner for the elections in Argentina. Its not to be close to power, but because he knows that the previous government had done a good job by kicking out the IMF. He thinks that the country is doing well and he wants that to continue. Thats the proof that he has political awareness, and that he knows how to analyze things.

What about his darker side

Maradona truly has a split personality. Like all of us, for that matter, but with hm its obviously more intense. He can be great, therefore his negative side inevitably can prove to be extremely negative. We spoke earlier about his ads for Pepsi and Coke, or his political commitment. Diego doesnt have aproblem with criticizing the United State one day, then taking money from Coke the next day. Or with cheating on the field. Finally, we always return to this match against England. One angelic goal, one devilish goal. These are the two sides of his genius. Maradona is a sort of saint. He has come close to death several times, he almost killed himself, but the truth is I think that God refused to take him in.

Did he seem happy to you

That depends on the time periods. One day, we brought him to Villa Fiorito, the slum where he was born, and we filmed his childhood home. He was so happy. At other times, it was more difficult. Maradona makes me think about Marlon Brando, or other great film actors. Once theyve left the public arena, they dont know how to live. For Diego, the ideal life would have been a game where the referee never whistles the end of play.

Marlon Brando of modern times is a football player

Its completely normal. Maradona has also become what he has become because he played football and not another sport, and because he played in the 1980s, the decade where the sport became incredibly poplar, particularly on television. The era of Maradona is that of the peak of the individual in football. Maradona, with his dribbling, telegenic presence power to single-handedly change a match, was perfect for this era. Moreover, this period ended precisely with Maradonas second goal against England. Since then, in football as in society, weve gone on to other things.

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