Sometime between June 23 and July 9, Zinedine Zidane will play his last-ever professional football (“soccer” to Americans) match, and an era will end. Zizou, as he’s affectionately known, is perhaps the greatest French footballer to have ever played (Michel Platini never won a World Cup), but he is much more than that.
Since the day in July 1998 when he scored twice to beat Brazil in the World Cup final, he has been a national symbol: of integration (he is the child of Algerian immigrants), of French skill and class, and of what France would like to be (tolerant, calm and brilliant). When Zidane announced that he was coming out of international retirement last year, the whole of France breathed a sigh of relief: With Zizou back on the team, known as les Bleus for the color of their jerseys, there was no way that France wouldn’t qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Germany. And so it did.
The film Zidane: Un Portrait du XXIème Siècle comes at just the right time, then. Artist/directors Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno have created a visual ode to a footballing giant. On Saturday, April 23, the pair took their cameras (17 of them, using different film formats) to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid for the match between Real Madrid and Villareal, and trained them on Zidane throughout the match.
In the film, we get to watch Zidane running, walking, occasionally receiving the ball, shouting, putting in a few crosses (one of which leads to a goal), shouting some more and then, eventually, being sent off. For about an hour it is a strange – yet strangely fascinating – experience (at least for those of us who like football) that gives us a chance to see a game from a completely different angle. It’s a wonder how Douglas and Parreno managed to get some of the images.
Their habit of cutting to shots of the match being played on TV gives the film some rhythm, but, about 15 minutes after halftime, it all becomes rather tiresome. This is perhaps fitting: Zidane has not been the same player for a few seasons, and the fact that you see so little of him with the ball at his feet says a lot about what’s happened to him.
The final 30 minutes of the film are interesting only in that you get to watch him becoming increasingly frustrated – with himself, with his teammates and with the fact that he’s not what he was. This may explain the film’s pompous subtitle (“A Portrait of the 21st Century”).
Zidane is only 34, but he is a tired man. His story is the story of many modern-day athletes: their talent gives them access to wealth and adulation, but the constant pressure to use that talent wears them out too quickly. A few days ago, Zidane played his last match for France at the Stade de France, near Paris. The stadium was full, and 80,000 people turned up to say good-bye. He didn’t play well and looked fatigued and jaded. He was replaced with a substitute after only 53 minutes, a running time that, oddly enough, would have been perfect for Douglas and Parreno’s visually audacious but ultimately rather dull Zidane.Favorite