Thursday, May 17, 2007

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)


This is football as science fiction, with the legendary Zinedine Zidane as the astronaut journeying into inner space. Sadly, the film is still not available on DVD in this country (though people with multi-region players or capabilities can easily pick one up here) and it hasn't received any substantial theatrical play outside of being shown in a few U.S. cities over the last few months (appropriately enough at museums) and some screenings at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in January. One would have thought that Zidane’s World Cup 2006 burnout/head-butt would have been just the kind of ballyhoo that an American film distributor would have desired—free publicity!—but so far no one has had the courage to finance what would realistically be a limited arthouse run. That shouldn’t be too surprising, I guess, once you’ve actually seen it. It’s a marvelously hypnotic, visual opiate—but fans of the great Zidane looking for in-depth interviews, biographical detail, and psychological clarity are destined to be disappointed. Instead, directors Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, with the help from the brilliant cinematographer Darius Khondji (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, Se7en, and the latest Wong Kar- Wai film My Blueberry Nights) and 17 cameras fixated on the iconic player, have fashioned an impressionistic ode to a waning Zidane during a 2005 match against Villarreal at the formidable Bernabeu in Madrid. Whether he’s in long shot, severe close-up, mid-range Ozu-styled low to the ground framing, or distorted by a television monitor—Zizou’s simulacra shape-shifting into downgraded pixels evaporating into the electronic ether—we get a real sense of the physicality of a player still impressively fit, but one perhaps in decline, resigned to being a hero on the sidelines instead of one in the whirlpool of play.

But Zidane’s talents were far from extinguished that night in Madrid. His eyes were forever watchful with intent, his body ready to spring into pursuit with the momentum of a square jawed action-figure. Other times, the mighty player simply stalks the psychic boundaries of the pitch isolated within the frame, marked by the camera away from any other player, the soundtrack acutely capturing his labored breathing while he waits for another turn or swipe at the ball, the din of the crowd pressing all around him just as the electronic rumbles and serenity of a note pinged just so (courtesy of Scottish indie-music darlings Mogwai and “sound noise” by Kevin Shields from genius shoegazers My Bloody Valentine) to distort our sense of movement and space out of the game, out of the frame, and into a headspace that weirdly manages to replicate a sense of… being. Or at least a simulation of what it means to be an athlete. Players sprint up and down the length of the pitch like prized Thoroughbreds, the lens sometimes fixated solely on Zizou’s million dollar feet, the tangible tools that spirited this remarkable talent from the housing projects of Marseille to become one of the world’s most recognizable humans. Sometimes the camera pans up into the sky toward the lights circling the arena, following Zidane’s eyes as he tries to evaporate from the chaos around him into the blinding light to someplace else. The film incorporates some of Zidane’s thoughts… which are poetically rendered though never obnoxiously so. He speaks of how he rarely remembers actual games—just fragments of play. Sometimes he falls away into memory and relives over and over the first goal of his life, the first time when his touch was golden and everything moved toward the net, toward victory, toward immortality.

And then Zidane snaps… much like he did in Germany in 2006, and the red card is flashed, sending this Achilles of the pitch into the dressing room to sulk about his misdeeds yet again. Or maybe he just keeps thinking about the glare of the lights and how they failed to dissolve him completely, failing to dissipate the rumblings vibrating through his muscles, his head, sending him back to that first time when he scored and everything mattered and... nothing really at all.

It’s not a film for everyone, and it will certainly tax the patience of people expecting something more than what it actually is. But if you give yourself up willingly to its strange rhythms, it will make for a fascinating hyper-realistic waking dream.

For a couple of other takes on the film you can click here and here.

11 comments:

shawnlevy said...

Where/how did you see this? I've been hoping to have more to say about it if it ever came to town.

I saw it at Sundance and was entranced. SAt with a critic from the Salt Lake Weekly who's a big Real SL fan; even travels to see them play away. When the match hit the half mark I turned to him and said, 'Why do I feel I need to go pee and then buy a beer?'

I thought the sound craft on this film was amazing. And when Zidane took the match by the scruff of the neck and changed it with one electric gambol and cross, I had chills. You hear talk of somebody suddenly changing a game. This film shows how it's done, and how seemingly random and ephemeral that skill is.

Shawn

Derek said...

Well put.

I have the DVD of it. I watched it again last night and was even more impressed with it--the music, sound design, and more importantly the editing. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Despite the film's artistry and fragmented approach to the game, I really got a sense of the physicality and rhythms of the match also. Second time around I felt like I was simply watching a match under the microscope or something.

Just talking about it makes me want to watch it again....

Derek said...

Oh, btw, Shawn... congrats on the Chelsea win. Though it sounded like a dreary affair.

shawnlevy said...

Oh, I don't know about dreariness. I'm content with Jose's summary of his tactics:

"I asked the players whether they wanted to enjoy the game or enjoy after the game. They told me they wanted to enjoy after the game."

Anonymous said...

Where can I buy the DVD? I've been desperately looking all over the net for a region 1 DVD that can play in the U.S. Would greatly appreciate the info... any idea if this movie is going to be shown in the U.S.?

Derek said...

No, unfortunately it's still not out on Region 1 DVD and as far as I know, it's not scheduled to come out anytime soon. But I'm hopeful that it'll come out eventually--the soundtrack was released here last week. If you have an all-region DVD player (they aren't expensive; mine is a Philips DVP-642 and it runs for $50 on Amazon; the player correctly converts PAL to NTSC and I've never had problems playing discs from any of the regions) you can simply pick up the Region 2 two-disc set. Well worth it, I think.

nina said...

oh wow...the soundtrack was finally released here? well, i thought that would never happen so maybe there's hope that the dvd will also be released.

Derek said...

Nina,

I have my fingers crossed that the official US DVD will finally arrive also.... The soundtrack was supposedly released a couple of weeks ago. I haven't ventured out to scrounge it up yet, but I'm ready to go searching since it's been echoing in my head ever since I binged on the film.

Zizou said...

Funny stuff...was googling around to see if I could find this dvd for sale in region 1. Apparently it doesn't exist yet. I became enamored with Zidane after watching him dazzle in the World Cup. Now, I can't get enough of him. My tivo is recording every old match that airs. So far just some older Champions League games and some Real stuff. Anybody else have ideas on where to get some older Zidane matches?

FYI - I have the Zidane Like a Dream DVD and it is amazing. Pick it up on ebay. Its region two, but by far my favorite DVD. I've watched it at least 10 times.

Ahmed said...

I 've just watched the DVD on my (small) TV and I must say that only now I realize what is a football game (I am 58 and I always liked football).

When we see a game on TV or from a comfortable place in a stadium, we don't really realize what a football player goes through during one hour and half...

and the DVD shows it really well... if you have a home cinema (the sound is IMPORTANT)!
After that you understand why they retire at 32...

Derek said...

I agree completely, Ahmed. You get such a great appreciation of the physicality of the game. I think the soundtrack really adds an important layer to an understanding of what's going on--the subtle shifts of movement on the pitch, the controlled breathing of a player and the seeming inaction when a player isn't actively involved in the game. It's quite an extraordinary document of a player and a game.

Thanks for commenting!

D