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

For all the transfixing images that the film blends to create its portrait, as significant is the mixing of recorded match-day sounds with the synthesized tracks from Glasgow band Mogwaï. Audio engineers manipulate the input at their disposal. During some sequences, they favor the bass drums of the ultra groups behind the goalposts; at other moments, to heighten aspects of Zidane’s isolation, they filter out stadium noise. We are left listening to the scratches of Zidane’s cleats, his pants and sighs: sounds of worry. Once, a dog’s bark echoes clearly as Zidane lopes near the touchline at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. “You can almost decide for youself what you want to hear,” says Zidane within a subtext broadcast occasionally at the bottom of the screen.

You are never alone. I can hear someone shift around in their chair. I can hear someone coughing. I can hear someone whisper in the ear of the person next to them. I can imagine that I can hear the ticking of a watch.

This is the paradox to which Khondji alludes above. Some 80,000 spectators hold Zidane in embrace, but the sense is of solitude. With the familiar sounds gone, it is as if Zidane walks through a graveyard. “The silence of portraiture is very important,” says Gordon. In the collaborative squabbles with Parreno, in fact, Gordon says that he argued for more silent periods. One can imagine the naive Zidane of boyhood, perhaps, fantasizing about himself on this floating green surface—Zidane says that in retirement he will especially miss “the green of the field” (le carré vert)—but the terrifying sounds of collisions and insult shatter the reverie. The game with Villareal, characterized with irony as a “walk in the park,” is anything but.

The film’s halftime montage, referred to cryptically as the “Pink Flamingoes” segment, places the match of 23 Apr 05 in the context of other news from the day. Some items are portentous, such as deaths from a car bomb in Najaf, Iraq; some quizzical—a marathon reading of Cervantes at Drew University in New Jersey; and others ephemeral: announcement of the fleeting glimpse of an ivory-billed woodpecker, long believed extinct, in Arkansas swampland.

We return to the match. Which is more real, in the end: (1) the unknowable Zidane, who Gordon says ceases to exist, as a practical matter, following his 90 minutes of labor, or (2) these events of a day now lost to the blur of time and of which, more than likely, we have also had no direct experience? Since Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait will endure as museum piece and historical record, this memory on film, as with portraits dangling silently in galleries worldwide, might have the last word.

But, for now, the debate has been joined by highbrow critics, such as a voice at the London Review of Books: “[T]he galáctico, like any modern celebrity, is available to us only through his mediation, and the more pervasive his image, the more frustratedly we recognise that he remains finally opaque, unreachable” (Paul Myerscough, “Short Cuts,” 5 Oct 06).

And on a seemingly more plebeian level, within a discussion thread at the Internet Movie Database, one writer casts Zidane as Platonic form: an abstraction that might yet be accessible via the artist’s or filmmaker’s creation. Another demurs: “[A]re you suggesting that Zidane is the form of [a] footballer? According to Plato, his forms do not exist on this plane.”

As we contemplate these ideas, enticing yet just beyond reach, another voice charges into the discussion-board fray: “Alright fellas, it’s soccer. I’d like to hear the Mogwai tracks though.”

Update

Hundreds of filmgoers formed an aesthetically pleasing elliptically shaped line outside the circular concrete form of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington before a screening on Apr 19. David Keyes of Culture of Soccer was shut out of the event, but includes a photo of the line of “ordinary Joes and Jills,” in the Washington Post‘s description (Blake Gopnik, “To Hirshhorn Filmgoers, One-Man Act Is All on Pitch,” Apr 24). Gopnik writes:

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