It’s not what you expect. No setup. No sendoff. No behind-the-scenes intimacy. It’s all on the green square of a soccer field—everything, the entirety of the film slipping wide and close. Zidane lapses 90 minutes—conveniently the same amount of time of official play at a soccer match. In real-time, the two directors are gambling that they can keep the viewer occupied by following this superstar midfielder. The work is a true achievement, giving a voice to the game’s unseen theatrics and a soul to an artist at work. Fans will funnel in; arthouse regulars may follow, if in smaller numbers.
What you see before you is not a test. Rather, the film draws out a match between two Spanish club rivals: Real Madrid and Villareal. The star power for Real Madrid smokes its opponent. Two of Brazil’s best are starters, and there’s that overhyped Brit with the thousand-dollar haircut and Posh sidekick named Beckham. But this is about French fútbol phenom Zidane (for those Beckham groupies—he makes a three-second cameo, getting a pat on the back when subbing in to curry favor for TV ratings one would suspect). You have a feature that works like a canvas. Not a lot of words besides a couple of captions quoted by Zidane in silence. There’s no V.O.; it’s just the sounds of the roaring crowd clapping in unison and chanting—the pit-pat of the players on the field trying to get a ball into the net. Twenty-four minutes in, you submit to the fact the game itself is the film.
Zidane offers a risky proposition. The credits roll and you are zoomed so close to the television screen that the players become microscopic dots varying in color from greens to yellows and whites. Using a vortex of camera angles, the visuals are split between a TV screen and on-the-field play with the crowds wailing; the camera trained on number five. Back and forth this goes on—Zidane looks like a videogame figure, all pixilated, and then boom you’re tossed into the awing color scheme of robust film stock, where you feel the game and watch the master shake a defender effortlessly.
Further, everything is presented like a chamber orchestra except instead of the camera moving above where the opera or play is acted out, you’re forced to focus on the lead violinist or pianist below. And drama is found there—in the notes played and the movements shifting hard and swift. At times, the absence of drama is dramatic. A goal is scored, and you don’t even see it. Just the opposing team in a cascade of yellow, celebrating after nailing a penalty kick on what looks to be a blown call.
There is a peak toward the end of the film, but in an effort not to spoil the surprise, I’ll just say that the calm and collected Zidane loses his cool. The effort as a whole wanders delicately close to disaster because Zidane—however much his little tokens of philosophy try to reel you in—is not that eloquent. He is an aggressive player, true, but restrained for the most part. See him sweat, spit and get a taste of the field during a fall—and after the fall, he chivalrously gets up and puts the divot back where it belongs. What comes across are the mini-battles that blow up far from the ball. So much drama is taking place and many players are close to the brink of savage war with one another. The musical score performed masterfully by the epic band Mogwaï emphasizes this build-up. Tension is thick. And the multiplicity of images that blur in and out, from Zidane’s unflinching eyes to his red-laced Adidas boots, to the white tape around his weak wrist—all offer a piece of the puzzle. In moments of stillness, a composition of fast jukes and stutter-steps delight the eye. It’s a lot of hurry-up and wait at first, but well worth it come the film’s finish.
Directors: Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno
Producers: Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Anna Vaney and Victorien Vaney
Genre: Documentary; Spanish- and French-language, subtitled
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: October 24