Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait (Zidane, Un Portrait du 21e Siècle) Review
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France’s Zinédine Zidane was one of the most compelling figures in the 2006 World Cup before he stepped on the pitch for the Final versus Italy. Everything was in place to provide a Hollywood ending to the formidable midfielder’s career—Zidane even had his own movie in French theaters during the tournament—but late in the game, the captain lowered his head and planted it into the chest of Marco Materazzi. The curious action earned him a red card and an ejection, providing a self-imposed tragic ending for what might have been his crowning achievement.

Shot during the April 23, 2005 match between his Real Madrid team and Villarreal, Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait follows the soccer legend in this unusual mix of sports movie and art film. Rather than telling a story with an arc of triumph or loss, Zidane is concerned with the ambience of the experience. Seventeen cameras are trained on Zidane as he competes in Bernabeu Stadium. The persistent roar of the crowd accompanies the visuals, along with spare use made of Mogwai’s score and subtitled Zidane quotes.

  
 
Watching a single athlete for the duration of a game is an interesting concept, but Zidane is better in theory than in execution. The 92-minute running time mirrors the approximate length of a match, but Zidane is primarily composed of the parts one wouldn’t see on a television broadcast...and for good reason. Close-ups and mid-range shots of the soccer player waiting for play to reach him or being involved briefly in the flow are only so absorbing before turning into numbing repetition. Since Zidane is often divorced from the action, the viewer has no sense of what’s happening in the game or how he fits into it. His greatness, at least to this soccer novice, is hardly apparent from what Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s film shows. Despite some excellent cinematography that lionizes Zidane, the lower quality wide shots taken from the TV feed are more satisfying in revealing the events on the pitch.

Zidane is typically expressionless while playing, so the endless time spent focusing on him gives no sign of what he might be thinking. The directors try to add some substance by inserting the sound of children playing in one section. Flourishes like this work within the limitations of a shorter piece, but in a feature film, they’re merely welcome breaks from the repetitive tedium. When his stony face cracks, it’s a momentous occasion, but by that point in Zidane, the viewer is grasping for anything.

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