Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Goals on Film - Zidane: Un Portrait du 21e Siècle

The world of art has often had a fascination with football, from LS Lowry, whose 1949 painting The Football Match, is due to be auctioned in May, to Sam Taylor-Wood, whose 2004 video portrait David, a homage to Andy Warhol's 1963 work Sleep, which recorded David Beckham sleeping and was displayed in The National Portrait Gallery.

The makers of Zidane: Un Portrait du 21e Siècle (A 21st Century Portrait), video artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, also cite Warhol's films as an inspiration, but a more obvious inspiration for their work is Hellmuth Costard's 1971 Fußball wie noch nie (Football as Never Before) which filmed George Best to produce a real-time portrait of the player in a match against Coventry City.

Zidane does the same with its eponymous protagonist, training 17 cameras on the Frenchman during one La Liga game on April 23, 2005 in which Real Madrid hosted Villerreal at the Santiago Bernabéu.

The film offers a fractured narrative, and its most striking feature is how isolated the player is.  Apart from a few snapped exhortations to his team mates Zidane barely speaks; he says just one sentence, telling the referee he 'should be ashamed' after he wrongly awards a penalty to Villarreal.

Rarely in the film's 90 minutes does Zizou have the ball and in those periods when he doesn't, he employs a stoic economy of effort before exploding into action. The balletic nature of his footwork is juxtaposed with the thundering noise of the players running - akin to a horse race. The suggestion that Zidane (if not the other players too) is a thoroughbred is repeatedly hinted at by the focus on him digging his toes into the turf like a horse clawing the ground with its hoof.

There's a haunting score by Scottish group Mogwai and no dialogue, but occasionally during the film sections of an interview Zidane gave the filmmakers are imposed as subtitles providing a level of existential introspection I doubt you'd ever get from an English footballer (which might, in part at least, explain the on-going 45 years of hurt).

Other stars are witnessed in the background - Beckham, Ronaldo, RaulDiego Forlan - but only fleetingly and you have to wonder what kind of portrait would have been created had Gordon and Parreno turned their gaze on one of these instead.

During the half time, we see other of the day's events from around the world - playing on Zidane's thoughts that the game might be remembered as nothing more significant than a walk in the park. It is the day Sir John Mills died, the day Elián González appears on Cuban TV and the day nine Iraqi civilians were killed in a car bomb.

In the aftermath of the bombing, a bystander wearing a Real Madrid away top bearing Zidane's name surveys the grim scene. The implication is unequivocal; in the same moment football is all-pervasive yet meaningless.

Occasionally we see the game through the more traditional TV camerawork and this only heightens the sense one gets from the artists' work that far from being part of a team, Zidane's journey through the game is an isolated one. He shows no emotion when he sets up an equalising goal, nor when his team score the winner. Only once does he laugh - after a conversation with Roberto Carlos. Whatever Carlos said, it leaves Zidane, unusually for him, smiling for at least 30 seconds.

Yet within a couple of minutes the customary brooding darkness returns. A team mate is fouled and Zidane rushes into the ensuing brawl, punching a Villarreal player in the chest. Despite being pulled away by Beckham it is too late and Zidaneis sent off. He accepts his punishment without complaint and from the heart of the melee, once more, emerges a solitary figure as he walks off the field and down the tunnel.

In that one moment the film captures the quintessential contradiction of the man. Zidane the artist, a player who paints sublime pictures on the 'carte verte' (pure green), as he calls it, of the pitch is also Zidane the thug, a player unable to control his violent temper who has racked up 14 red cards in his career.

Just over a year later, Zidane would exit his last ever professional game in similar fashion after head butting Italy's Marco Matterazi in the World Cup final. As he told Gordon and Parreno, "Sometimes when you arrive at the stadium, the script has already been written."

Last Goals on Film: The Manageress: Series 1

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