While football fans in Egypt are still reeling from yesterday’s game (congratulations to all Ahly supporters, better luck for Zamalek next time), many are also still grieving the loss of Diego Maradona. In this issue’s main image, the beloved legend stands joyfully with a football on top of his head in the 2008 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, during the premiere of the documentary about his life that we recommend for watching this week.
If you’re not a football person, we also have a playlist of songs written by the late poet and lyricist Mido Zoheir, curated by music writer Maha El Nabawi.
Many documentaries have been made about Diego Armando Maradona (1960 – 2020), but this week we recommend 2008’s Maradona by Kusturica. The film, which runs for nearly 90 minutes, was driven by the desire of its director, Emir Kusturica, to meet with the football icon. According to the Kusturica, after being told repeatedly that he resembles Maradona, the filmmaker’s fascination with him grew, and he was curious to find out what he has in common with the global football icon.
Interestingly, the film doesn’t begin with footage of Maradona, its main subject: instead, it opens with Kusturica playing the guitar during a performance with his band, after which the event’s host tells the audience they’re listening to “The Maradona of the Film World.” The crowd goes crazy, as Kusturica and the band launch into another piece.
It’s clear that there’s no physical resemblance between the Serbian filmmaker and the Argentinian football player (Maradona passed away the day after Kusturica turned 66), but we can safely say that these alleged similarities have given us a very entertaining film. It seems that Kusturica believed there was something to those remarks, and in 2005 he decided to embark on a journey to find out more about Maradona (and himself in the process), packing his bags and flying to Bueno Aires to meet the man in person.
More than any other documentary made about Maradona, the film reveals much of the footballer’s political views. He tells the director that he always rejected the idea of working in politics because he “doesn’t want to con people.” During their conversations, Maradona speaks about the concept of social justice, which he says he’s committed to on account of growing up in one of the Argentinian capital’s poorest districts. He also cites the influence of Che Guevara, whose works he has related to ever since he was young. Maradona reflects on the widening gap between social classes that he has witnessed during his life, not only in Argentina but in many neighboring countries as well, including Brazil, Venezuela and even Cuba.
At Maradona’s mention of Cuba, Kusturica steers the conversation towards the footballer’s famous meeting with Fidel Castro, referring to an alleged statement by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez that if it weren’t for Fidel, the entirety of Latin America would be ruled by “Yankees,” and the people would all be speaking English. Maradona doesn’t disagree, and he starts to recount his five-hour meeting with the late Cuban leader in 1987. Before that meeting, Maradona had also been invited to visit the US for a tribute event in his honor, but had rejected the offer in a clear political statement.
The film interweaves more discussions between its director and his subject with scenes from Maradona’s past and present life, but throughout Kusturica is keen on highlighting the radical side of the football legend: Maradona, the anti-imperialist. This is evident in two animated sequences recreating Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1989 World Cup, where — instead of the English team’s players — the footballer is shown tackling Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth respectively.
But in addition to his politics, the film also focuses on different turbulent moments in Maradona’s life, including the period of his cocaine addiction. It also shows the many forms of Argentine obsession with the footballer, manifested in a church dedicated to his career, as well as a bar with multiple large screens playing his games on loop. Kusturica films Maradona sitting in the bar watching himself play, smoking a cigar.
During the film’s press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Maradona admitted that he didn’t like any of the films that had previously been made about his life, primarily because their directors had never spoken to him. In Maradona by Kusturica, however, he speaks to Kusturica with moving candor, or in his words: “We made this film by opening our hearts to one another.”
(Eleven years later, Maradona would disapprove of yet another film made about him, Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona (2019). He announced that he would be boycotting the documentary, particularly because the film’s tagline described him — among other things — as a “hustler.”)
“There will be faster players who score better goals, but there will never be another footballer that we’ll all love so much,” Kusturica said upon Maradona’s passing. If you’ve never seen the film, now is probably a good time to do so. If you have watched it before, it is still a suitable moment to revisit it in remembrance of the late icon. And even if you weren’t a hardcore Maradona fan, the film is more than a portrait of him; it is also a meeting of two curious, immensely talented men, providing a highly engaging and enjoyable viewing experience.
Last week, Mada Masr organized an online tribute for the late poet and lyricist Mido Zoheir, who passed away in April of this year. Zoheir left behind two poetry collections: An Injection of Air (2015) and Al-Sohbageya (2016), which he collaborated on with a group of other poets. he also wrote multiple songs for some of the most popular artists on the contemporary Egyptian music scene, including Dina El Wedidi, Maryam Saleh, Black Theama and Wust El Balad.
Below, writer and music journalist Maha El Nabawi recalls the influence of Zoheir’s lyrics on her life, and shares a selection of her favorite songs of his:
I never got to meet poet/lyricist Mido Zoheir when he was alive, and I regret that often in light of his passing this past April. Over the years, Mido has written so many of my favorite contemporary Arabic songs. But by the time I got introduced to his lyrics and poems a decade ago, it was perhaps already too late because I always assumed there would be more time.
Time always distorts things like that. But I’m comforted at least by having met his words early enough to find companionship in them forever. Mido’s words have helped me pass the brutality of being in a way that often felt as though they were written exactly for me in that moment, even though I know of course, they were not. What I’m trying to say is, I think this is exactly what the best lyricists manage to always do: they write songs that help you survive millions of things that would otherwise be impossible to survive, if not for that line, at that moment, in that time.