Approximately a minute and half into Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, I was already blown away. After a subtitle promises an entire soccer match from first kick to final whistle, expectations are promptly subverted when said opening kick, shown on an analog television screen, is zoomed in until the action registers only as undulating waves of partnered green and red capsules. A moody Mogwai score overtakes the play-by-play, and the green and red capsules serve as canvas to giant Godardian letters Z-I-D-A-N-E. French footballer Zinédine Zidane has scarcely appeared onscreen, but from the grandly deployed letters to the implied possessive undulations behind, he’s supposedly paramount; close as we are to the promised action, heaven knows what’s happening. The game is on.
Oh, right, the game. Opening titles complete, we’re brought back to the legible TV screen, back to a picture and feeble sound we recognize…for a moment or two. Then the film blasts—from one to eleven on your dial—to field level. The picture is like lightning, and the sound is deafening. Not exactly a sophisticated cut, but like the visceral, disorienting opening shot of Miami Vice, it feels like now. Somehow, nearly every subsequent cut feels just as insistent, surprising, and deceptively poignant. An aging French striker tugs at his socks, and I’m a puddle of love.
A high-concept experimental sports feature documentary, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, tracks Zidane for every second of a pointedly ordinary Real Madrid vs. Villareal match on April 23, 2005. Dozens of cameras are employed, all with a different angle, frame, and focus on the man, as well as microphones that catch everything from cleats chopping at the pitch like horse hooves to all ten or so words that the spaghetti western-like handsome-browed hero utters over the duration of the match/film (after an infraction leads to a penalty kick and score for the opposition—like most of the game action, it occurs off-screen—Zidane emotionlessly approaches the referee and whispers, true to stock character, his only complete sentence, “You should be ashamed.”). See Zidane run. See Zidane spit. See Zidane watch. It doesn’t take long to realize that most of Zidane’s night is spent like ours, hanging back and watching, waiting for the ball to come. When it comes, it is thrilling; when it doesn’t, there’s cause for wandering thoughts and serious projection.
Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s contemporary cubist portrait also functions as a playful discourse on time and memory, taking more seriously the football as film (and life) metaphor that opened Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run by adhering, on one hand, to the limitations of a finite recorded event, and on the other, taking the splinters of multiple vantages of that event and fitting them together until the event artificially replays in real time. One shot after another comes across as “this happened,” and “this happened, too,” while always implying that what’s happening beyond the frame is infinite and equally compelling. Never departing from its subject and thus as persistent in purpose as the beads of sweat dripping from its footballer’s nose and chin, Zidane is the exceptional experimental work that not only acknowledges as elemental the role of time in film (and yes, life), but hitches itself, like we all must, to its provisions and limitations, wisdom running parallel to the simple running back and forth, focusing for a second before fuzzing, only to crystallize again somewhere downfield for another set of eyes. –Eric Hynes
Zidane is currently playing at BAM. Click here for ticket info.