A Portrait of the Scientist as a Predator

Even though it follows a single player through a single game, Zidane is not a movie about a soccer game or a soccer player. It isn’t really about soccer or sport. If anything, this remarkable film is a study in the fiercely focused intensity that the highest levels of competition can bring out in one of the human species’ top predators.

Ok, if that sounds pretentious, try this: The film follows Zinedine Zidane – and ZIdane alone – over the course of a 2005 match between Zidane’s club, Real Madrid, and Villareal. Seventeen cameras, a score by Mogwai, and long stretches of nothing but Zidane’s silent and almost expressionless face, with cuts to his feet, his calves, and very occasional shots of the whole field from high above.

Zidane spends most of the match walking or loping along, with short explosions of two-and-three touch play breaking up the zenitude of it all. If you didn’t already know, you would never gather from this film that Zidane is one of the all-time geniuses of the game, a man whose ability to sweet-talk the ball into doing his every bidding is almost unparalled. Indeed, it is hard to tell what is going on in the game at all; the viewer gets no sense of the pace and flow of the match, which side is winning the most balls and showing the most grit and desire. Goals are scored offstage as it were, and it is not clear what series of moves even brought them about.

There is one exception: a transcendent moment at about the midway point of the second half, when Zidane takes a pass, puts his head down, and sprints. He jerks side to side, moves to the left, and twists right. There’s a brief pause, a massive cheer goes up, and he heads back to his half. It’s only when Roberto Carlos swings by and gives him a pat do you realize they’ve scored. The filmmakers grant us the release of a replay, a brilliant goal set up by a lovely floating cross that Zidane has sent from the left endline over the keepers head to a teammate waiting at the far post.

I could go on and on, but you’re just going to have to see the film. It is a tremendous shame that Zinedine Zidane will forever been known, especially to the great mass of casual soccer fans who tune in every four years or so for the World Cup, for the headbut he delivered to the sternum of that worldclass douchebag Marco Materazzi. He should be remembered for stuff like this:

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