Emir Kusturica’s film Maradona follows the internationally acclaimed football star in all of his enigmatic, outrageous glory as he gives his own perspective on his life of fame: political outrage, athletic prowess, capacity for deception, and intense drug use all included. Amidst the complicated tale of Maradona’s success and the demons that sometimes threaten it, Kusturica’s film also subtly examines the overarching theme of forgiveness and how the player’s athletic talent often mutes the noise in his personal life.
The film itself has an almost ironic tone; Kusturica seems to want to juxtapose Diego Maradona’s epic football career with the “good natured roly-poly” that the director has grown to know throughout the filmmaking process. At 8:33, Kusturica exclaims that he views Maradona as more of a “character from a film about the Mexican Revolution than the best footballer of all time.” In other words, it is at times difficult for Kusturica to take his subject seriously as an athletic God, especially given his radical political views (and the tattoos that accompany them) and physical appearance.
In many ways, the director makes it clear that he does not forgive Maradona for the person he is outside of the football pitch; he still admires the player’s extreme talent and can appreciate his large personality, but also does not want people to forget Maradona’s radical political activism and past of drug use. Kusturica emphasizes his subject’s utter hatred of President Bush (he calls the former president a “cold-blooded murderer at 24:45 and is seen wearing a t-shirt with Bush animated with Nazi symbols) and steadfast reverence towards the controversial Fidel Castro, almost to suggest that many—if not all—of Maradona’s political views are quite extreme. This is not to say that the player’s opinions are wrong, but his level of involvement in politics and the dichotomy through which he sees the world around him can easily come off as superfluously intense and irrational to outsiders.
Further adding to Maradona’s questionable profile, the infamous hand goal raises questions about his integrity. Giving so much power—for better or for worse—to the referees is just an inherent part of the game of football; hence, many argue that Maradona’s hand goal was acceptable because the referee did not see it and that is not the fault of the player. However, others may easily have an ethical issue with the player’s actions, given that he fully acknowledges that the goal was not made fairly, even declaring at 8:04: “it felt like getting away with a prank!” Further, his hatred towards the British after the Falkland War made the goal even more acceptable in his mind, for it was an act of vengeance, “like stealing an Englishman’s wallet.” Maradona is obviously proud that he was able to pull off such a play and that it helped lead his team to victory, even though—outside of the political context in which it occurred—the goal included quite a bit of deception and poor sportsmanship.
His drug use is arguably more of an objective moral issue. Kusturica shapes the film so that the narration boomerangs multiple times back to Maradona speaking about drugs; perhaps placing such scenes amongst tales of his other profile as a “footballing magician” is just another one of the ways in which the director wants to contrast Maradona’s dark side with his Godly reputation. About an hour into the film, Maradona explains that cocaine “shut me up inside myself.” In Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano insists that “it was true that [Maradona] was into cocaine, but only at sad parties where he wanted to forget or be forgotten because he was cornered by glory and could not live without the fame that would not allow him to live in peace” (Galeano 232). Galeano’s description of how Maradona entered into cocaine addiction is almost supposed to get pity out of the reader:
“When Maradona said he wanted to leave Naples, some people tossed wax dolls stuck with pins through his window. Prisoner of the city that adored him, and of the Camorra, the Mafia that owns it, he was playing against his heart, against his feet. That’s when the cocaine scandal erupted, and Maradona suddenly became Maracoca, a delinquent who had fooled people into thinking he was a hero” (Galeano 234).
Cocaine may have reinforced his already-eccentric, larger than life personality, but often at the cost of being a present father figure in his daughters’ lives. He expresses that he feels he missed out on much of his daughters’ childhoods because he was so wrapped up in his own world of drugs. Although he sometimes jokes around about cocaine (for example, bashing the United States yet again to blame widespread cocaine use on Americans), it is clear that he is ashamed of the consequences that cocaine’s side effects had on his life at home.
Yet despite the drugs, radical political views, and questionable actions on the field, there is still a church named after him. There are still people, both in his native Argentina and around the world, who idolize him beyond compare. When his drug scandal meant that he “had betrayed the children who adored him and brought dishonor on the sport” leading his fans to “[give] him up for dead,” they all still returned to his side once he had served his sentence and he was, once again, largely assessed based on his athletic success (Galeano 235). Even in countries like the United States where the family unit is so valued, the fact that he was an absentee father and husband for years disappears because he is Diego Maradona and he is the epitome of football greatness. Galeano writes about him in a defensive tone, declaring: “Maradona carried a burden named Maradona that bent his back out of shape” (Galeano 233). Such a statement implies that one should pity the player for his demons, rather than blame him for them. We are all supposed to take the bad with the good, because the good is superhuman.
As the film clarifies early on, “Once a God, always a God,” and “for Gods, all is forgiven.”
Galeano, Eduardo. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. London: Verso, 1998.
Maradona. Directed by Emir Kusturica. Wild Bunch Distribution, 2008. Online Film.