Doc of the Day: Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Posted in Days of Docs by - July 14, 2012

 See one soccer football match through one man’s eyes, and understand the game in a whole new way.

Dir. Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno, 2006, 90 min

What is the experience of a sporting event like from the perspective of the player? Never having been much of an athlete, I’ve never really considered what it’s like to be out on the field/court/rink/whatever. Through Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, the soccer football field becomes a place as surreal and serene as a Buddhist temple. It seems that to play the game is to enter a strange higher level of thought where the standard rules of time and space seem to bend and stretch. It’s a surreal experience.

The doc conveys this frame of mind by focusing on a 2005 match between Real Madrid and Villarreal CF, playing it in real time, and focusing solely on the actions of one player: Zinedine Zidane. Before this, I knew him only as that one guy who headbutted that other guy that one time. Through further research, I learned that he’s considered one of the best soccer football players of all time. There is nothing to interrupt the pure flow of the game, and the pure flow of Zidane’s game. There is music, and occasionally Zidane’s thoughts are displayed through silent subtitles. Other than that, it’s just this one match.

It’s a highly experimental piece, almost more like an art installation than a normal film (Douglas Gordon, one of the directors, was behind 24 Hour Psycho, so that’s not surprising). With such a singular focus, there’s lots of repetitive action (Zidane loves to go “c’mon!”). But it’s nothing like watching a sporting event the regular way. Cutting out all breaks and sticking to the action allows you to really mull that action over. This is sport as meditation, and the goals are a brief nirvana.

It’s odd that I can’t find much to write about this film, because it feels so much richer than its simplicity suggests, or how much I can do it justice. Zidane muses over how, as an athlete, he never remembers nor experiences games in a linear or clean fashion. This feels exactly like that; an oneiric jumble of running and kicking and flying balls. There’s not quite anything like it (well, except for a doc from 1970 that the filmmakers were inspired by, but you know what I mean).

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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