Saving the world with Maradona, Mao, Angelina and Clint

It’s well past midnight, as usual. I still seem to be writing on Toronto time, blogging when I should be sleeping. Just passed by a crowd cheering for soccer god Maradona as he mounted the red stairs with filmmaker Emir Kusturica for the late-night premiere of Maradona by Kusturica. As the title indicates, the Serbian auteur gives himself almost equal as Maradona in this documentary, which serves as a mutual admiration vanity project for both. Makes a curious companion piece to Tyson. They’re both stories of athletes who abused massive celebrity, tumbled into drugs, then salvaged some sort of redemption by bonding charisma with revolutionary icons like Mao and Che. Both these docs are essentially self-portraits, but Tyson is far superior, because its subject is so much tougher on himself.

From what I could see, I was only North American journalist at the press conference for Maradona. Asked to compare himself to Tyson, the soccer god shrugged. “I am a football player, he’s a boxer. He lives in suffering, I live in joy. That is above what distinguishes us.” Comparing Maradona to both Mao and Marilyn Monroe, Kusturica said, if Maradona “hadn’t be a footballer, he would have been a revolutionary.”

I asked both of them if Maradona was indeed a god, as the film seems to suggest. Kursturica gave a long and involved answer about how his divine energy originates from a pre-Christian “zero time,” and about his “radiation”—”his power to radiate wherever you go with him.” Weighing the matter of his own godliness, Maradona said, “The only comment I can make is that I don’t feel I am God. There is only one God, and it’s not me. People have faith in me like a god. And if people want to consider me as a god, I’m not going to contradict them.”

Whatever. The soccer messiah and his auteur fan made made a sweet couple as they bounced and dribbled a soccer ball on the red carpet for the camera

It has been a long, crazy day. Began with bolting out of bed after sleeping through the alarm. Did a 10-minute sprint to the Palais for the 8:30 a.m. press screening of Clint Eastwood’s L’Echange. That’s what they’re calling his movie in French. They’re still waffling over the English title, which is listed as Changeling in the Cannes program book but asThe Exchange in the studio press kit.

Clint’s latest opus is based on a true story of heinous cover by a corrupt Los Angeles police force in 1928. Angelina Jolie stars as working-class single mother Christina Collins, who’s nine year son is abducted. Five months after the boy’s disappearance, the police try claim to have found the boy, and try to pull off a public relations coup by re-united him with his mother. Problem is, it’s not the right boy. When Collins tries to protest the fact, they slam her into a nightmarish mental institution. and thus begins a woman’s crusade for justice, with the help of a liberal evangelist played by John Malkovich. Canadian Colm Feore plays the L.A.P.D.’s corrupt police chief. And as the plot blossoms, the horrors of the mental institution are matched by details of a serial killing rampage that left 20 children dead.

Good and evil are painted with such extremes in this drama that, if it were fiction, you’d have trouble swallowing it. But there’s nothing subtle about this kind of crime. Besides, Eastwood prefers to serve his morality straight-up, in clean, unambiguous strokes. His style is always a bit starchy. Amid the low-pressure system of gritty urban realism that dominates the films in competition at Cannes, the lavish period detail of this Hollywood epic shimmers with artifice. But hey, it’s a movie, after all, an old fashioned melodrama about a noble woman battling a vile conspiracy, and it’s quite a story. It went over pretty well here. This is the first film we’ve seen in competition that is both a Palme d’Or contender and a picture people might actually pay to see.

Jolie, meanwhile, gives the kind of bravura performance that’s almost guaranteed to register at Oscar time. Personally, I preferred her work last year in Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart. There again, as the widow of terrorist victim Daniel Pearl, she played a woman who grapples with authorities after losing a loved one to abduction under horrific circumstances. But it was a small, underrated film that slipped under Oscar’s radar. It’s much more likely she will be recognized for Changeling, or whatever it ends up being called.

At the Clint/Angelina press conference, I asked Jolie about the almost proximity between these two anguished characters, Marianne Pearl and Christina Collins. . .

For more of Brian D. Johnson’s videos go to http://www.youtube.com/bdjfilms. All 2008 Cannes footage is shot on a Sony HDR-SR12 camcorder, on loan courtesy of Sony Canada.

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