Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

ZidaneIt is impossible to view this film without the lenses of hindsight affecting one’s view. Zinedine Zidane was a household name in many millions of homes before the World Cup in 2006, but after it, he became known not only for his godly footballing skills but also for his swift and effective head-butt. At the time, commentators rattled their microphones with the incongruence and apparent capriciousness of the act, which had blurred the ending of the final. Zidane is a commandingly stoic presence on the field but one ought to remember that Stoicists aren’t necessarily averse to plunging in the knife (Et tu, Brute?). The French are never the sort to underthink anything, thank god, so there was plenty of Camusian talk of Zidane slamming his forehead allegorically at the untenable role that French society had forced him to live out. And there is something of this sentiment in the film Zidane.

The credit list for this film reads like an invite list to a fine trans-Atlantic indie-scenester party: musical advice from Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, an original score by Mogwaï, Darius Khondji (Delicatessen) supervises the cinematography, fashion guru Agnès B. shovels in some money and the main auteurs are contemporary artists with a Turner Prize on the mantelpiece. So, this is art.

But it is art on the cusp of obscurity. It is conceptual almost to the point of distraction. The Camusian influences are clear—we are watching a man in the midst of his work, in the midst of a team, in the midst of a crowd but largely alone on the screen. And Jean Baudrillard pops in for a cuppa too—the ‘reality’ of the filmed footage is contrasted with the fuzzy simulacra of the television coverage. The question that rears its head for me though, is what does this say about Zidane? The cameras are trained on him with a burning intensity. We hear snippets of breath, we see his foot tic (ad infinitum), we gaze at his wristband, we read his ruminations on what it is to be in a match, and only occasionally do we get context—thematic, sociopolitical. We are invited to see a man, as with any ‘portrait’, but the makers don’t seem to be able to open the film up to the possibility of letting us see as the man. One of film’s great powers is psychological empathy. With a mere swing of a camera or tilt of the eyes, the audience sees what a character sees, places themselves in their shoes. In Zidane, we are left outside, contemplating the man, but none the wiser.

Is that a problem? Not necessarily. The film is fascinating as a study of aesthetics, of singularity, of alterity, of the discrete pixels that make up the picture. It is also beautiful. It is not, however, a film about football. It is an open meditation that, in its final moments, happens onto a kind of blind prescience.