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This week, the ICA Boston presents Zidane, A 21st-Century Portrait (2005), a film in which 17 35mm cameras follow the French footballer Zinedine Zidane for 90 minutes. The film runs from the moment the first whistle commences the game until the player is ejected for scuffling with an opposing player and walks off the field near the end of the match.

This past Sunday, the film was introduced by the ICA’s Director of Film and Media, Branka Bogdanov, who described the film as “plot-free” and a painting that should be considered in the same way as a Rembrandt - the only difference being its respective medium of film. Following Bogdanov were a representative from Cartier, who sponsored the event, and the ICA’s director of external programs, who introduced the New England Revolution, the local soccer (football) team, as the ICA’s guests. It was clear that the film was being carefully presented for two very disparate audiences, which Bogdanov cited as “art cinema” and “soccer lovers,” and not without warrant - the sold-out theatre was full of Real Madrid jersey-clad fans and children along with Burberry wearing intellectuals and Francophones.

The filmmakers, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno are both accomplished artists and football fans who came up with the piece together while playing the game. Gordon has won the Turner Prize, the prize for Best Artist at the Venice Biennale, and the Hugo Boss Prize while Parreno, though lesser known, is an internationally exhibited artist. Gordon is interested in examinations of popular cinematic events such as the film Psycho, (1960) which he stretched into a day long piece, titled 24-Hour Psycho and Taxi Driver(1976), where he looped the character, Travis Bickle’s line, “You looking at me?” on two screens facing each other that viewers walk in between. His ‘re-articulations,’ if you will, are dissections which focus solely on an essential aspect of a much greater piece. ForPortrait, he and Parreno filmed the 23 April 2005 match between Spanish Football teams Villarreal and Zidane’s team, Real Madrid, focusing at all times solely on Zidane with all 17 cameras.

The film’s press release promoted the film as a “unique hybrid of artwork and sports documentary” yet it was received distinctly by the different elements within the audience. The two groups which the film had the largest draws on, art-cinephiles and sports fans, saw the piece as an artwork and a football game, respectively. For each group, the effects of the film had evidence: I will act as representative for the cinephile - I thoroughly enjoyed the film, despite its unconventional subject, the cinematography, editing, technical virtuosity, and score by Mogwai all combined for a great work of art and cinema. For the other group I will use Jeff Larentowicz, the only starter from the Revolution in the audience. The ‘Revs’ won their game on the same day as the screening against an undefeated team and Larentowicz scored the first goal of the game and his first goal of the season.

I was surprised when the Revs fan I attended with (and identified Larentowicz for me) found the film a little boring. He said that it was lucky that the game itself was exciting (Real Madrid came back from a goal down to win) because otherwise the film would have put him to sleep. A few moviegoers’ reactions did indeed mirror that of the crowded stadium on screen; a couple of goals and fouls received simultaneous, though muted, whoops or empathetic winces that were unsurprisingly concentrated in the New England Revolution players’ section.

In the end, the filmmakers produced a cinematically entertaining art film. There are few “football” players in the world that could have held the attention of an audience for so long. The Union for European Football Associations’ (UEFA) Golden Jubilee Poll’s "Best European football player of the past 50 years" with Zegna model looks, Zinedine Zidane was one of those players. It was an art film which relied on the tried and true tools of mainstream feature films - all of the aspects of the film which I enjoyed so much - along with a “star” both on the field and in the media. The filmmakers may have strove for an avant-garde masterpiece, but they created a film for all audiences.

Institute of Contemporary Art

"Zidane, a 21st-Century Portrait" was on screened May 6, 2007 at The ICA..

Image courtesy of the ICA.

About Author

Christian Holland is an aspiring New York City-based essayist who likes writing about how New York City isn't the center of the world. He was executive editor and founding contributor of Big, Red & Shiny, and sat on the publication's board for V2.

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