Review: Zidane: 21st Century Portait
I can’t say I ever saw Zidane play live at a football stadium. Watching on TV was the closet I was ever going to come to seeing him in the flesh. I barely watched Spanish football back when he was playing for Real Madrid and his time at Juventus is a distant memory.
I can recall his performances in international matches and the Champions League. He’d be the best player on the pitch, casually spraying passes left to right. At times you were never sure what he was going to do. He just did what he wanted.
It’s what made Zidane such an irrepressible player, that aloofness, the casual way he seems to play football and Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait captures that elegance. Using multiple cameras (17 in fact) in a match between Real Madrid and Villareal at the Bernabeau.
A group of expensively assembled players (‘Galaticos’) would play the opposition off the park with Zidane at the fulcrum. The approach taken to capturing Zidane is a bit like Sky Sports player-cam where you follow one person through the duration of the match.
No other player gets a look in and it’s through that approach that, if you can take in the atmosphere of the crowd, the little twitches of emotion on his face or the way players come up to Zidane can tell you more about the man than a conventional biopic ever could. However the film does not live up to its potential.
It is a bit of a bore. Following a player on the pitch is an intriguing premise but problematic when there is not enough footage that’s revealing. The little moments that are revealing often say a lot more than you’d think they would. The crowd cheers enthusiastically when he gets the ball, sensing that something could happen whenever he gets on the ball and if you watch football and know Zidane you knew he’ll be capable turning an unlikely situation into a favourable one.
Watching him you feel as if you understand what it feels like to be a footballer more than a film which we would be told what it’s like to be one. When he pauses to receive the ball and passes it on, you begin to understand that his game, in fact any footballer’s game, is about anticipation and execution. A case of guessing where the ball is going to be and reacting. Despite being a team game football is reliant on each individual in order to succeed. Once you’ve figured out moments such as these however, it starts to become tedious and you’re left waiting for that next moment.
Directors Douglas Gordon and Philipe Pareno see fit to bring in other elements into play. There are times when the sound of the crowd is drowned out and we hear music instead. It’s very subtle and after a while you won’t notice but it’s there. We often hear his voice talking about something that has very little to do with what’s happening on the pitch.
He talks about his philosophy of football, his thoughts and feelings and again it’s a chance to know the man a bit better. In another case when he talks about his childhood, you’ll hear the sound of children playing football. It’s an interesting technique but I’m not sure why they felt compelled to this unless it was for aesthetic reasons. Hearing children play football adds nothing to what we’re seeing and that is the main problem with the film. Not a lot happens and it feels as if the directors are trying different techniques to arrest your waning attention.
It’s a shame they pick a match where not a lot happens and where Zidane seems ineffectual for most of the match. Well, until he sets up the equaliser with a lovely step-over or when he gets sent off in the dying minutes.
Football can be like that. Boring for seventy minutes and then it suddenly sparks into life. Reacting to provocation off-screen and getting a straight red it’s more insight into how he works. Also it’s not the greatest idea to be following him so closely, especially in the instances where we see him spit, which is unseemly after first time let alone the seventh.
So what do we learn from this film? Not much. If you know Zidane, seen him play regularly enough you’ll know his traits and this won’t seem new to you at all. If you’re unfamiliar with him you’re likely to be bored by the lack of thrills and spills. The film and its approach are not involving enough.
If anything Zidane comes across as a fascinating enigma, flashes of brilliance at one moment, a rush of blood to the head in another. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is worth a watch but for others who aren’t familiar or simply don’t care, it’s not a rewarding watch.
For those who are football nuts like me it depends on whether you’d like to spend your time in the company of great footballer, I’d say it’s worth it. Just.