Soccer is a sport of powerful emotion; you either love it or you hate it. This feature banks on you loving soccer, as, despite its focus on one player, that’s all it is.
Seriously, 90 minutes to play a soccer game, 90 minute long movie. The filmmakers took seventeen 35mm cameras, placed strategically around a soccer arena during a match between Real Madrid and Villareal, and aimed them at soccer great and RM player Zinedine Zidane. As various angles of the player doing his business are strung together, the sounds of the band Mogwai provide the score, with intermittent voice over from a narrator or Zidane himself explaining the types of thoughts and feelings that go on during a game. If you’re a fan of soccer, this is a fascinating, unique vision of the international sport.
And even if you’re not a fan of soccer, you’ve probably heard of Zidane, as he’s the knucklehead for Team France who head-butted opposing Italian player Marco Materazzi during the France-Italy 2006 World Cup Final, getting ejected and somewhat contributing to France’s loss in the illustrious tournament via shootout (via logic that, being France’s best player, and not being able to play in the shootout, it could be a big reason why they lost). But beyond his head-butting prowess, he’s also known world-over as a very talented soccer player.
In this portrait, as every camera aims at him spitting, pacing, sweating and saying “hey,” you’re struck less with his talent at first and more at his cagey experience. For the majority of the first half, a half where his team is losing, he puts in the absolute minimum amount of effort. Barely running, more walking around while wiping his nose, completely emotionless, nothing really happening, he only comes to life, with true bursts of energy, when he can’t seem to avoid the ball and the game any longer. In other words, no matter how many brilliant angles of socks and fans and soccer gameplay you’ve got, the first 45 minutes of this film are an exercise in tedium for anyone but the biggest soccer fan. As a fan of veteran atheletes, however, you have to give respect to a man who knows exactly how much energy to expend to make sure he can last the whole game competitively.
Which is what the second half of the movie is all about, as the losing score and running time prompts Zidene to finally wake up and show his skills. Suddenly he’s running, dominating, scoring goals and setting up brilliant assists. Still not saying much beyond “hey,” and still not showing much emotion, at least there’s a fire to his playing, and the game finally comes to life. And not giving anything away, but you finally get insight into how this seeming emotionless guy can suddenly go into a violent attack on an opposing player, a la the infamous head-butt. Much like his playing, when he goes from nonchalance to intense it’s like flicking a switch. No warning, no explanation, he’s just on.
The film is as it advertises, being exactly a portrait of a single player during a game. Not specifically important or special, it’s one game out of a season of many that the filmmakers chose and, eventualy, wound up having a solid emotional pay-off (unless you hate soccer, in which case you walked out as soon as you realized it wasn’t much more than a game with a Mogwai soundtrack). Ultimately, though, there’s more filler than real action (much like any soccer match, in my opinion) and the film is a challenge to get all the way through for anyone without an interest in the game or Zidane himself.