Tuesday, March 03, 2009


17 cameras fixed on Zidane for the entire 90 minutes capturing his every movement. When I first heard about the idea for Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno’s film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait I was thrilled because it offered me a chance to witness something that I have longed for -- to observe what a soccer player, a great one at that, does for an entire 90 minutes. My interest was driven mostly because it is extremely hard to observe a player’s off the ball movement during a televised soccer game. In a regular 90 minute game the ball stays in play for an average of 60 minutes with the rest of time wasted on fouls and stoppages. I have seen games where the ball was in play for atleast 66 minutes and I have also seen some games where the ball was only in action for 43 minutes (an Italian Serie A game from a few years ago with plenty of kicking and no flow). So that gives each player an average of 3 minutes on the ball, provided all the players touch the ball equally (60 min / 20 outfield players or 66 min / 22 players). That is a remarkable number and means a soccer player would have to spend 87 minutes in off the ball movement. And this is where the most intelligent players thrive, positioning themselves perfectly so that when they receive the ball they make each touch count. Ofcourse, the best players also get to spend a lot more time on the ball than their team-mates.

Over the last few decades there have been few players as intelligent and remarkable as Zinedine Zidane. Which is what makes the film such a treat to watch. The game in the film is the April 2005 La Liga fixture between Madrid and Villarreal, almost a year before the World Cup final. We get to witness the calculative Zizou, the constantly thinking man looking for that great pass, and also the extremely focussed man who is able to blur out the noise of the restless crowd in the Santiago Bernabeau. We get to see his amazing control of the ball as he points to where he wants the ball and perfectly controls it with a single touch even if that touch is a backheel. And early in the second half, we see Zidane getting isolated from the game and drifting into his own world. But we then witness him regrouping and thankfully we get to see his genius as he dribbles past players and perfectly crosses the ball leading to a Madrid goal. And as the game progresses, we see Zidane get agitated until he lashes out resulting in a red card. Zizou only got a handful of red cards in his playing career, and two of them were in the World Cup, the first in the 1998 World Cup after he needlessly stomped on a player from Saudi Arabia and the second being that now infamous one in the 2006 World Cup final. The interesting aspect is that the film was released in May 2006 at the Cannes film festival and was just a month before the World Cup started and two months before that World Cup Final. So it gave a few months notice about Zidane’s red card incident. But then again, his reputation for carrying an angry side was already established when he played in Italy with Juventus. Ofcourse, his genius was far superior to those red cards.

The film shows the best and worst of Zidane and in that respect is a perfect testament to one of the greatest players to have ever played the game. Besides Zidane, we get to see plenty of other big name stars. The most prominent one is Roberto Carlos who manages to get Zidane to smile near the game’s end, the only time Zidane was able to relax. The camera also shows us Madrid’s golden boy Raul, along with Beckham and Ronaldo and if one blinks, they could miss Figo. On the Villarreal side, we get to see Marco Senna, Spain’s maestro at Euro 2008, Diego Forlan and the silky Juan Roman Riquelme.

It was a real pleasure to watch the film although there were moments where the directors decisions regarding the shot selection leads to some missed opportunities and needless blurred shots. A huge positive is the soundtrack by Mogwai which perfectly blends in with the action. At selected moments the soundtrack is turned off and we get to hear the crowd, either silent, talking or getting angry. Those moments of listening to the crowd and the long shots of Zidane, standing isolated like a lone warrior, are perfect.

Rating: 9/10


Pacze said...

I've seen neither film, but Zidane sounds like the 1971 German film Football As Never Before (Fußball wie noch nie). That one only has 6 cameras, but a similar idea: following George Best for warm-up and game.

Sachin said...

Oh wow, I never heard about that German film. George Best would be a great player to witness. Cruyff would be another excellent candidate.

personally, I would have loved if from that great Arsenal team of a few years (2001-2004), Patrick Vieira, Bergkamp and Henry were picked.