Interview in French newspaper Libération of 2 june 2006 (special Football world cup)

The director of Underground shoots a documentary on the mythical Argentine football player and also prepares himself to support Serbia-Montenegro in Germany. His visions of the game, between politics and aesthetics.

Met in Munich in April, Emir Kusturica and his No Smoking Orchestra were doing a concert in the Muffathalle. The day before had been announced the selection of Jens Lehmann as goal keeper of the German team, in place of the Bavarian giant Oliver Kahn. On stage, the singer of the itinerant Serbian band, ”Dr. Nelle”, who was carrying the shirt of ex-Yugoslavia, red star on the heart, did not miss the occasion to speak of it with the public : ”If Kahn doesn't want to play for you, he can come in the team of Serbia-Montenegro !” The blank which followed in the public, made up essentially of alternative young people to whom football passes far above the head, brought back the band to its music. After the show, in the hot atmosphere and the over-populated backstage, discussion with the director - and approximate guitarist - who hasn't finished finishing with Maradona, the center of his next film. Not to say, its subject. At first, it looks like a testamentary ordering of the “Pibe de Oro”. Then it appears to be, with Emir Kusturica, more conceptual and politically prospective.

  • I've heard you were quite good in football…
    • Emir Kusturica : I was, like many children of my neighbourhood. I was supposed to be among the best during our improvised matches in the streets. Think, if you were not able to play football with the neighbours, you would never have been respected. Unfortunately, later, I had an accident and lots of problems with my legs. I could almost play as a professional, but I was very often wounded and couldn't continue. I played in a team of young people in Sarajevo, but it was very complicated to manage with school. My father wanted that I continue my studies. Moreover, I didn't only play football, I also practised many other sports. And there either, I wasn't bad, but never an ace. I was never good enough, in a way. That could be a “natural” definition to answer the question: what is a good footballer? Well, one needs good legs and look like Maradona in order to be, eventually, the best. The idea, for me, was thus: do I continue like that, on this level? Well, I stopped. Even if I still play today for pleasure.
  • As a child, did you have idoles ?
    • EK : Many. I don't know if you remember Dragan Djazic, of the Red Star of Belgrade? There was a generation of players, at that time! Sarajevo had won the championship of Yugoslavia. They had played against Olympiakos in UEFA 1), I were at the stadium, they had won 3-1, this is the best souvenir of my life, I think. I couldn't sleep of the night. Certainly because, often, people, like me at that time, dreamed to become footballers like them. Today, they are jealoused; before, they were envied. Contrary to many people, I always thought that good footballers were not stupid. In order to play well, you need an excellent notion of space and time, which are, according to me, the two essential references in a human life to be respected. Of course, you also need a certain education. But anyway, for me, a good footballer is like a big architect. The good footballer builds the structure of the game, draws it. The best players in the world are of that kind and, among them, Maradona is the one who reaches the most the architect. Wait… Ah! Giulietta! (he signs an autograph.) Maradona had a great freedom. He didn't let himself poisoned by the tactics and the strategies. When you think at his time you always see it as a finished era. It was a game much more based on the feelings. Today, we see running pitbulls on a field which became too small for their powerful engine. But this is true also for basketball and all the sports, though. They take weight, muscle, become “explosive”. In the Maradona years, they ran approximately half less quickly. But especially, the foot remained a true game. Consider the goal he scored alone against England in Mexico 2), well, it marks the end of individualism in this sport. Maradona could satisfy himself to touch the ball only 2 minutes per match. Today, all the teams try to “preserve” the ball, that is the great change. (Big noise of machines which fall behind, laughters.)
  • The «big change» ?
    • EK : Like for the cinema, we shouldn't be too much romantic, and pretend that football is not as good as it was. It is just different. Look at Ronaldinho, he is the perfect conjugation between the individual technique and speed. He just has his muscles, a little special, which seem made to wrap the ball as did Maradona. But he will never have the influence Maradona had on a match. It's like what are called the “big events” in History. The best matches of Maradona are part of the History, they are historical dates, because in these matches passed some messages, in each of his actions too, like “the hand of God”. It's also for that reason he's still THE best.
  • The film you are finishing on Maradona, was it his idea, yours, or did you decide together ?
    • EK : He called me once, twice, then we met. I was very happy to approach it. Not because of his notoriety but because he's someone as imperceptible in his life as he was on a field. He proved me that what I thougth was true: football is architecture. There are invisible lines, waves, which interact during 90 minutes. (He recognizes a pretty girl, and makes her pass elegantly in the tiny room where people eat, film, drink.)
  • A defender of Naples said, one day, that when Maradona had the ball the defenders stopped playing to look at him. Were you in this situation with him ?
    • EK : I see what you mean. During the shooting, we made some retakes of goals on a football field in Belgrade. Afterwards, he came to see me and said : “You see, I never kick hard on the ball.” Indeed he touched the ball very gently. Then, I said to myself: “Yes, which footballer today would have this ball touch apparently so soft and yet so precise ?” The key, and there it is, deals with physics, geometry. And that is what raises the level of a player, of a football match. It is not just the combination of instinct and force they have today.
  • For this film, did you follow him, did you direct him, or were you more a game partner ?
    • EK : We built some goals together. (he smiles.) In fact, I wanted to mark with him the end of our footballistic time. I started from this famous match against England in 1986, where he goes up all the field, passes seven English players and scores. I was astonished. I considered this action as a film. For me, it was like studying the Renaissance style for an architect. How somebody, at this moment, in this place, could pass all these guys? He was coming back from the front, he gets the ball as a pivot, passes the first in his camp, then turns around the second - it's like if it had been written for a cartoon. No, rather for the cinema. It's this kind of trick which makes football incredible. The great players make the great events, it's not fiction and yet it remains completely unreal. Because the ball, the most perfect geometrical form, fly like never anybody could imagine it. Each match is just a shadow compared to this Argentina-England which is splendid.
  • Is your film a documentary ?
    • EK : Yes, with seven chapters and seven characters. Because I am persuaded that when Maradona was passing these seven players he was in fact passing the Queen mother, Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles, George Bush, any other people of that kind I must still find out. I will add incrustations, to match to his life the seven personalities he passed for this historical goal.
  • What is the goal Maradona is aiming at, by making this film with you ?
    • EK : The goal is political. He is a catholic but he hates the popes. He spoke to me a lot about John Paul II, responsible of hundreds of thousands of died in Africa because he didn't want that people use condoms. But it's also the story of Latin America, from which he's the product. The story of the military dictatorship imposed by Henry Kissinger and others, which makes today that the major part of these South Americans think the opposite of what North Americans wanted to inculcate to them at first. Today, there is no more left or right, there is the result of a historical process: altermondialism. This idea of Karl Marx that all the History would go towards State capitalism, gives today that we live in the corporative world. That some companies want to bring populations to the ultimate expression of democracy doesn't have any sense. Soon, perhaps five or six companies will have all the powers. And Latin America is the example of the failure of the totalitarian, authoritative systems. Maradona is the symbolic and charismatic figure of all this, and it's why I believe in this film. I also followed him in Mar del Plata during the anti-Bush demonstrations. I saw the passion of football which animated these people and clearly noted that this country (Argentina, note) is now ruled by a peronist3): they lost this idea of left and right. We can still be French or Italian, but, you speak seriously about politics, right and left do not exist any more. Maradona represents what, in life and in football, is essential. Look at the Real Madrid with its million dollars, it's the Pepsi-Cola of football.
  • Is Maradona aware of his power ?
    • EK : Absolutely. He enjoys it. I could detail several aspects of his personality. From the politician to the samba dancer. In short, I would say: excited, small, big and fine psychologist. An incredible and beautiful ergonomic, a character of carnival, made for the parties.
  • Some oppressive regimes, like Argentina for Maradona or, in a way, Great Britain for a Northern Irishman like George Best, have created the greatest footballers. Do you think it is because of this pressure on the players ?
    • EK : George Best, the guy of Liverpool ? 4) Perhaps, but it's still the past! Today, it's important to understand that football is an industrial game. And it goes more and more in this direction. So, who are the people who try to break this logic? Some people who, like those in basketball were coming from Harlem, are in the margin, were oppressed, knew poverty and which behave finally a little like the hockey players of ex-USSR, sell themselves elsewhere. They are the only people left.
  • Would have Maradona agree to play for Berlusconi or Abramovich ?
    • EK : You know, he's a contradictory character. He can do all what you don't expect. Yes, he would have played for Abramovich (Russian billionaire, president of the Chelsea football club, note). I remember he told me that Berlusconi, at the time, offered him millions when he was in Barcelona. But Maradona hates the authority. And he hated the president of Barcelona, Josep Lluis Nunez, and said to me that he was like João Havelange… Maradona could have played in the Milan AC, but Berlusconi said that the players that were good jugglers generally scored few goals. And in fact, indeed, those who are able to make miracles with a ball are jugglers, but are never the best players. Without this remark of Berlusconi, Maradona could have played in Milan. However, after this declaration, Maradona said to him fuck off and that he would never want to see him again. (Behind, some musicians make a terrible noise, we don't known if they shout or if they laugh.)
  • And for this World cup, how is Serbia-Montenegro ?
    • EK : It should go quite far. It's the first time that there was a coherent work with this team, which corresponds to our culture and at the same time to a collective effectiveness. We always had big individualities, and that in all the sports, but today there is no peace judge in this team, no Pancev, no Mijatovic. There is a team, from n°1 to n° 11.
  • Did you see them playing ?
    • EK : Yes. Do you remember Croatia in 1998 ? I think they were collectively bounded, by patriotism. We could feel it. I believe in patriotism in those circumstances. Suker is the only player I remember. So, here it is.
  • Does Serbia-Montenegro 2006 look like Croatia 1998 ?
    • EK : Maybe they won't go as far as them, but it will be close.

Interview made by Olivier Villepreux (in Munich), translated by Matthieu Dhennin

1) First round 1967
2) Quarter of finale of the World Cup in Mexico. The match was lived as a revenge after the Maluin war, in 1982.
3) Nestor Kirchner
4) Emir Kusturica hates English football and you feel it. George Best, Northern Irish, played in Manchester United.
en/itv_06-06_libe.txt · Last modified: 2008/02/17 15:41 by matthieu1