Portrait of Zidane

I haven’t posted about a film in some time, so in the spirit of getting things rolling in the third year here are some thoughts.

I was never very interested in following football until I first saw a Champion’s League match in 2002. It was as if I was watching a game I had never seen before. As this introduction to foot came in France I have since followed French football a little closer than in other countries. One could say it is where I actually learned what the game could be like. Getting to know the game in France also meant getting to know Zizou. Having grown up in hockey I was keenly aware of how only a handful of players can come to impose their singular will upon a game of highly gifted, talented and trained stars. Lemieux had it, Lidstrom has it, and when you can recognize it in them, it is obvious Zidane had it in his sport.

A few nights ago I went and saw Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. The 90 minute film follows Zidane’s every move on the evening of April 23, 2005 as his Real Madrid side hosts Villareal. 17 cameras focus on him, to catch every glance, every jog, every spit, every sprint, every pass reception -always deft – and every habitual foot drag. Rarely do you see much of the full field action. Glimpses of Raul, Beckham, Ronaldo, Carlos and even Figo, serve as quick reminders of the talent that flows on the pitch that night. This is not an action sport film. This is an art film that serves as a portrait of isolationism. The directors, Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno, force us into a position where we must reflect on the enigmatic character that is Zinedine Zidane. What is the significance of being so unfathomably exceptional at controlling a ball without using one’s hands? Does there need to be a significance? Is he a role model? Is he isolated in his abilities? Does his drive or character keep him isolated?

The running style, his foot drag, his subtle movements into open space, and deft abilities with the ball are not new to the football fan. However, displayed in this focused context we are left to consider the questions above, and many others. Is there any significance to his abilities, his character, to anything about football? The film is interspersed with an outstanding musical score that evokes a range of emotions. It pulls the viewer to wonder about Zidane’s enigmatic emotions. The majority of the time he appears eerily calm, a little too laid back for an athletic competition of such high caliber, and amongst such skilled peers. Then in a flurry, we are reminded of his intensity when he receives the ball and single handily creates a goal from almost nothing. Later a glance or a single word remind us of his seething intensity and desire to compete. Yet, as most fans know who have followed him, there is anger underneath as well. This is revealed at the end when he is sent off on a red card following a bit of a scuffle. A prophetic ending, as just over a year later his career, and his country’s hopes, would exit on a red card as well. Thus, the viewer is left to wonder if the film portrays not just 90 minutes of Zidane, but does it paint a picture of his career? Fans constantly cheering or cajoling in the background while he works in isolation with 21 other players around him. Leading a team, while working alone.

If you enjoy art films, and enjoy football then it is a must see. It does drag on at times, but perhaps this just serves to make the viewer question the significance many people place on football, when so much else goes on in our world. The directors do splice in some images from other happenings around the globe on that date in history. Including a passerby in a car bomb scene wearing a Zidane jersey. Even if it does drag, there is something about this film that makes it worth watching. I can’t quite sum it up. Just like one can’t quite sum up Zidane in a few words. His skills, his appeal, his character – they are all a little bit elusive. Perhaps it is summed up by using some of his own words, which appear as subtitles from time to time in the film: “Magic is something close to nothing at all.”

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