' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Monday, November 21, 2022

Some Drivel On...Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

If just a few months ago I was lamenting how every sports documentary produced by ESPN was sterile and aesthetically dead, well, thank God the French exist, to quote Woody Allen in “Hollywood Ending,” because I found my wanting soul soothed by “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” (2006). Taking place entirely within the space of a 90-minute football match between Real Madrid and Villareal on April 23, 2005, directors Douglas Gordon and Phillippe Parreno eschew all the pesky pertinent details – like, you know, the score – to instead create a museum piece with Real Madrid’s star Zinedine Zidane as the subject. Utilizing 17 different cameras, Gordon and Parreno keep their gaze almost entirely focused on French-Algerian player throughout. And if occasionally quotes of Zidane’s are superimposed on the screen, and if a traditional soundtrack is largely shunned for the sounds of the game, “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” mostly does not seek to put us in his headspace or the ground alongside him, ineffably leaving us to linger just outside, on the edge, to observe. 

Now this is not like me watching Chicago Sky basketball games last year when I would frequently just keep my eyes on Candace Parker whether she had the ball or not to watch how she shrewdly moved and positioned herself. No, because those Sky games were still presented in the manner of all televised basketball games, in wide shots encompassing most of the court, I could keep my eye on everything and everyone else. Not so in “A 21st Century Portrait.” Gordon and Parreno’s preferred shot is the close-up; of Zidane watching the run of play just as often as moving within it, frowning, scowling, and spitting, constantly spitting. (Hey, all that running builds up saliva!) And when the filmmakers do go wide, it feels pointedly less than spectacular, an aerial shot from above reducing the players to tiny ants on the grass, maybe an aliens’ POV wondering what these weird earthlings are up to, or Zidane from below and framed against the backdrop of an electronic ad constantly circling the stadium, momentarily putting him in the pose of a football-playing salesclerk. 

“A 21st Century Portrait” also deploys these wide shots not so much to diffuse the tension within the game itself but to demonstrate how the game’s tension repeatedly diffuses all on its own. When Zidane is rewarded a free kick just outside the penalty area, the camera cutting wide to take in the full scope of the suddenly altered situation instinctively suggests something dramatic is about to happen. It doesn’t. The kick is low, harmless, play proceeds. In being made to feel as if something is about to happen that, then, doesn’t renders the disappointment as profound. This moment exists as the inverse of one of Zidane’s quotes laid out on the screen, in this case “Magic is sometimes very close to nothing at all.” Here, nothing is very close to magic.

That quote is obviously what the directors want us to take away from their “21st Century Portrait” of Zidane, which is why they open and close the movie with it, an unfortunate case of insisting too much in a movie that favors and succeeds most in its lyrical ambiguity. Because if these myriad close-ups of Zidane’s charismatic glare and even his cleats seem to cast him in the role of something approximating god – like we can almost touch the hem of his jersey – the staggering amount of these close-ups also takes on the opposite effect, a larger-than-life figure gradually reduced to just another jamoke hawking some loogies.

No comments: