Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait, and What You Want On Your HDTV

On April 23, 2005, some of the best cameramen in all of film converged on a Spanish La Liga match between Real Madrid and Villarreal with 17 high-end cameras—film, and modified HD cameras from Panavision with special zoom capabilities, previously available only to the U.S. military—and trained them all on Zinedine Zidane, the legendary French/Algerian midfielder and he of crazy World Cup headbutt fame. All 93 minutes of the match are captured in real time with the focus never straying from the monk-like Zidane. And it's one of the most beautiful things I've seen on film recently.

Technically the film is absolutely amazing: how the cameramen kept Zidane in as tight and clear focus as they did throughout the match is completely mind-boggling, and the switches between crisp HD, traditional film and the pixelation of the match's TV broadcast is a great contrast. The crew are regulars for Almodovar and Scorsese, so that probably explains a lot. And the sound engineering—at times, all noise drops away leaving only the thoroughbred drag of Zidane's cleats on the turf, his short sighs of breath, before thrusting back into the madness of air horns, drums and chants and general lunacy that is a Real Madrid game at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Even crazier is that Zidane does not appear to be wearing a mic, meaning some serious parabolic mics were probably required to gain the level of sonic detail on display. Also fantastic is the score by the great Mogwai, which fades in and out in their characteristically cinematic and dynamic style.

More Warholian art piece than Goal TV montage, the film will, at times, put you deep into your own head space ("how can a human be that agile? what am I going to have for dinner later?"), which also serves to put the flashes of action (which I cannot spoil) into sharper, more vivid relief.

Having its original release in 2006, the film, which is the work of video artsits Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, just opened in New York. Already out on DVD in Europe (curse you, PAL), I am now counting the days until its U.S. release (Blu-ray, please), because it's all I want playing on my HDTV in place of ridiculous cable in those frequent moments when TV is used ambiently. Inane pundit chatter or an absolutely zen-like portrayal of the solitude, focus and acrobatic beauty of one of the world's best footballers set to fantastic music? I think that's an easy choice. Here's a clip, to which YouTube does not come close to doing justice:

[Official Site, UK Region 2 DVD]

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