A portrait with fluidity | Preserving Zidane’s day of work on ‘the green of the field’

Parreno describes his film as setting out to capture the movie “in your head,” the pastiche of images created, for example, when traveling by bus or car and the scenes coalesce into one mesmerizing blur. Further, both directors, as well as Zidane, narrate the youthful experience of wishing to view their footballing heroes from as close to the TV screen as possible, replicated in the film during opening and closing sequences when Zidane’s form is lost amid a field of pixels. For Zidane, the draw was the announcer’s voice as well as the images of a personal hero, Uruguay and Olympique Marseille forward Enzo Francescoli.

As to the choice of the film’s subject, Zidane’s “Sphinx-like character,” according to Gordon, made him appealing, as well as distinctive facial features: tonsured head, strong nose, olive eyes and, during games, a darkened visage that make him a figure of potential menace. From the view of cinematographer Darius Khondji, the dark regions around Zidane’s deep-set eyes bring to mind the brooding black-and-white cinema of French director Robert Bresson. “At other times,” says Khondji, Zidane’s attitude “was very epic, like John Ford‘s westerns.”

Pardoxically, though, and partly a result of the complex findings that such a studied portrait puts on offer, Zidane emerges as a solitary, vulnerable figure. Again Khondji, speaking in one of the DVD’s supplemental features, provides the telling remarks:

When the focus was on Zidane, with all these cameras pointed at him, he was very fragile. He was really like a thin film, or a leaf. It was very unusual. He really traveled from one space to another, from a sort of blurry space, almost fluid like water, to a very clear, sharp image. And the result was something very beautiful which represented Zidane’s own fragility.

Khondji

Khondji’s metaphor of fluidity cues the observation that Gordon and Parreno’s film exists, in part, as a meditation on bodily fluids. Zidane’s production in this respect is extraordinary. Like drips of condensation from greenhouse plants, perspiration travels over the narrow channel in Zidane’s chin and falls to earth at regular intervals, as if metered. In the second half, he must dispense the fluid buildup by continually raking both hands over his cropped head. Throughout, he whistles spit from his mouth to accompany a general attitude of irritation. For most of the 90 minutes, the game is a struggle. Zidane admits in a DVD feature that this was not one of his masterful performances, but the game is one in which “everything happened.”

The tight focus from the retinue of high-definition and Super 35mm lenses, two of the cameras having been requisitioned by the U.S. Army for surveillance, confirms the realization that the game, to Zidane, represents work. It is not play. When a smile crosses Zidane’s face, at wild gesticulations and a comment from left back Roberto Carlos, the brooding lifts briefly. Yet when Zidane saw the film, Gordon recalls that the moment of lightness was “the only thing in the film he didn’t like. Zidane hated it because it showed that he wasn’t concentrating on the game” (Tom Dart, “Portrait of the Artist as an Angry Young Man,” The Times, 4 Sept 06).

The cover of the Sept 06 Artforum: “[A] major part of the conceptual brilliance of Zidane consists in the fact that its protagonist’s sustained feat of absorption is depicted as taking place before an audience of eighty thousand spectators, with millions more watching via TV,” writes art historian Michael Fried.

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