Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait review

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Towards the end of this year’s World Cup, long after English dreams had died, pundit Ian Wright visited Berlin’s modern art gallery. Browsing various baffling installations, the footballer’s reflections marked a watershed. Football had met art and hadn’t made a fool out of itself. Now, pushing those two seemingly disparate worlds even closer together are Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, co-directors of what may become one of 2006’s most divisive films.

In planting 17 cameras around Real Madrid’s 80,400 capacity home, but only picking out Zidane, they shun the chaos (offsides, goals, cards) of the ongoing match. Indeed, by focusing solely on the greatest player of this century, the beautiful game’s intricacies are lost, replaced by a sweaty man lingering in the centre circle, waiting for his inferior teammates (headless chicken Beckham...) to pass the ball. Why divisive? Because, for many, this will just be a Sky Sports Playercam they can’t switch off.

Yet, as the game progresses, the viewer is slowly overtaken by a calming transcendence – thoughts swirl and the mind drifts, inventing stories and subplots for a drama that can’t be scripted. Accompanied by some of Mogwai’s softer moments and the occasional subtitled thought from Zidane himself (“When you are immersed in the game... You are never alone”), the football becomes a mere sideshow. Like Last Days, musings are ascribed to the protagonist – “I’m lonely, tired of this sport, of carrying the hopes of a liberal France. I should have been a philosopher...”

Then, during half-time, news footage (missing children, trapped miners, international summits) from the day of shooting is splashed across the screen and a whole other facet of Zidane is introduced. We are transfixed by football and are culpable of overlooking life or death events in favour of Zidane’s “walk in the park”. And now, with this entrancing documentary, we’ve been granted special privilege to indulge ourselves further.

Football as never seen before. Mesmerising, poignant and a better epitaph for Zidane's career than a certain rush of blood to the head.

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