ZZ TopNovember 4, 2008
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is such a completely unique, of-the-moment, 21st century piece of cinema, unlike any film I’ve ever seen, that it came as a bit of a disappointment to discover that the film is actually two years old and came out in France and the UK in 2006. It’s already on DVD there but this is a film that, despite its ultra-modernism, demands to be seen in that most archaic of information delivery venues: a dark cinema. For those who don’t know, Zidane follows French-Algerian soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane over the course of one single match played between his club Real Madrid and Spanish rivals Villarreal on April 23, 2005 (just one year before Zidane’s infamous last ever game, the 2006 World Cup Final, and the headbutt felt around the world.) Directed by Scottish conceptual artist Douglas Gordon (24 Hour Psycho) and French-Algerian artist Philippe Parreno (both of whom are currently showing at the Guggenheim’s theanyspacewhatever show), Zidane was filmed with 17 cameras with zoom lenses set up all over the stadium, with cinematography overseen by Darius Khondji (who has already had three other films released this year with Funny Games USA, My Blueberry Nights and The Ruins). Focused almost entirely on the bullet-headed midfielder as he prowls the field—generally doing nothing much more than jogging, scowling into space, spitting, shouting at unseen teammates—the film lulls you into a meditative trance, ably abetted by the soundscape music of Mogwai and broken only occasionally by a sudden frenetic burst of activity. Zidane’s loneliness on the field is so pronounced that it comes as a shock (for those not up on the club careers of Europe’s football icons) when David Beckham pops into view midway through the second half. As unique as this experiment seems, I’ve just discovered that it had actually done before, in 1970, when German director Helmuth Costard filmed George Best with eight 16mm cameras over the course of one Manchester United game. But from what I can tell from the priceless clips of Football as Never Seen Before on YouTube (here and here) the results are quite different. Costard keeps Best in the middle of the screen, framed from head to toe, whereas Gordon and Parreno use military-strength long lenses which flatten perspective and fill the screen with Zidane’s head against a sea of blurred faces, or his feet pacing the tuf. Though there are definitely narrative pleasures to be had from following the game, as well as one can, Zidane ultimately becomes an experience similar to that of Into Great Silence: a study of men absorbed in their own private passion and forbearance. And it’s also the best film about soccer since Gregory’s Girl.