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Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

23 October 06 words: Andrew Merrington
An unconventional biopic of the French football legend is showing in cinemas at the moment, our critic reports

Zidane PR Photo

When the ageing legs of Zinedine Zidane - perhaps the finest footballer of his generation - helped carry France to the this year’s World Cup final against the odds, it was as if the last chapter in his career was following a classic Hollywood narrative. That ‘Zizou’ subsequently opened the scoring and was then sent off in defeat rather plunged the epilogue into French New Wave territory.

There is an ironic foreshadowing of that astonishing last act in this – Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Filmed using 17 high definition cameras, the focus is almost exclusively on Zidane as he runs, sweats and struggles to make his presence felt in Real Madrid’s Spanish league encounter with Villareal. He runs, he sweats a lot more and finally offers evidence of his genius. And then he becomes embroiled in a row, and well, you can guess the rest

Zidane PR image

With Seven-cinematographer Darius Khondji orchestrating the action, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is a dizzying and ultimately hypnotic experience. The cavernous Bernebeu stadium of Madrid tilts and whirls around Zidane as he moves about the pitch; team mates flit in and out of frame, with even a Galactico as marketable as David Beckham reduced to mere mise en scene.

Yet there are also moments of great stillness and quiet: The gentle brushing of the grass with the sole of Zidane’s boot; the heavy gasps for breath; the almost vulnerable utterances of “hey” in the vague direction of the referee. And during the half time interval – when the camera stops shots of following the players down the tunnel – we are treated to a series of images from around the world at that moment, culminating in the haunting picture of a boy in a Zidane replica shirt at the scene of a terrorist attack in Iraq.

Whether you consider that a cheap shot at investing the action with greater significance than it would otherwise have, it does nothing to change the visual beauty, and overwhelming feeling of loneliness that envelopes the film. This is not Sky Digital on steroids but a human being at work and laid bare before his peers. It serves to make the moment when Zidane’s face breaks into laughter and smiles, following a private joke with Roberto Carlos, all the more intense and uplifting.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is not going to be met with universal acclaim. It is unlikely to tempt non-football fans into the cinema, and perhaps even less likely to lure the armchair fan out of his living room. It is unconventional and uncompromising. Admittedly it is also not unique - Hellmuth Costard’s 1971 film Football Like Never Before starring George Best broke the mould. But Best is fitting company for Zidane, and few would begrudge these icons the chance to run through their repertoire of skills again.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait - Official Website


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