This experimental documentary film co-helmed by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno captures retired French international footballer Zinédine Zidane in the course of a match. The match in question was Real Madrid vs. Villarreal on 23 April 2005, when Zidane was a madridista. Gordon and Parreno employed seventeen cameras around the pitch and in the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid to capture the real time aspect of their project. But those in search of a standard match broadcast to once again witness the creativity of Zidane’s years at Real Madrid will be disappointed. Zidane may prove to be an unnerving viewing experience for the average football fan, and even a Real Madrid fan. But for Zidane fans it is a staggeringly up-close and dare one say loving look at one of the greatest footballers in the contemporary era. And for experimental film fans it is a sensual audiovisual exercise of fandom of football and athletes, the poetics of sporting bodies, and the tension of off- and on-screen space.
Browsing: This Sporting Life
Serbian filmmaker Kusturica’s above statement is as seductive a tagline as any to describe his own documentary film about the legendary Argentine international footballer Diego Armando Maradona. But if further pressed to describe Maradona by Kusturica in a group of words, the more prominent terms would be: football, fandom, religiosity, imagining the nation, (revolutionary) Latin American politics, and Maradonismo. Put these words on the pitch, scramble them, and you will get a feel for what the film is like, in theme, form, and content.
rothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s The Two Escobars was part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 film series, which covers significant sports events, personages, and histories of the last thirty years. Barbara Kopple, Albert Maysles, John Singleton, and Spike Jonze were among some of the other filmmakers who also contributed to the series. The series’ title refers to ESPN’s thirtieth anniversary, the impetus for the film series in the first place, while 2010 was the year of the men’s World Cup in South Africa. Of the thirty films, The Two Escobars is the only one to address football. It weaves a complex, fascinating, ultimately tragic story of two men during a particularly bloody era in Colombian national history from the late 1980s into the 1990s, involving drugs and terrorism, but one also marked by pockets of pleasure because of football.
Football is arguably the most popular sport in Iran, and has a rich history that dates back to the turn of the twentieth century, thanks to the introduction of the game to the country by the English. Also dating back to the turn of the twentieth century is none other than the medium of cinema itself, which made its first appearance in Iran around the same time. In keeping with this two-pronged theme of football and film, it is worthwhile to look at some of the instances in which films have represented football, less in terms of showing football matches or presenting narratives on football players and more in terms of football as a field both actual and metaphorical to address aspects of Iranian society and culture.
Despite its title Rudo y Cursi—meaning “uncouth and corny” in Spanish—Carlos Cuarón’s film on two lower working-class Mexican half-brothers recruited as footballers and who gain fame and riches is anything but uncouth or corny. In fact, it is simultaneously a biting satire and sarcastic morality tale on the cultures of football fandom, narco, and media, and their interconnectedness, in Mexico. In this light, “Rudo” and “Cursi” as the brothers’ football nicknames provide a playfully caustic layer of meaning to the film. Furthermore, as “Rudo” and “Cursi,” popular Mexican actors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal add their own intertextual spin on themes of brotherhood, rivalry, and images of masculinity in relation to football. As such, not only is Rudo y Cursi a solid debut feature from Cuarón, it is also quite deserving of a spot among notable films on the game.
In retrospect, no one was more suited to make a film about football than Hong Kong filmmaker and actor Stephen Chow. “Is it possible to use kung fu to play soccer?” one of the characters asks in Shaolin Soccer. The cultural exchange of kung fu and football did not go unnoticed: Shaolin Soccer was not only a massive smash in Hong Kong, it also became Chow’s first international hit. In turn, Chow literally presents a new, spectacular spatiotemporal dimension of the beautiful game to earn a very unique playing position among films on football, let alone Asian films on football.
Ten years ago, British Indian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha made Bend It Like Beckham, a film about the experiences of two young women who play football in England. Despite the decade that has passed since its production, not only are there still too few films made about football, but even less are the number of films about women playing football. As such, despite the surface staleness of its narrative, Bend It Like Beckham is quite the unique work and deserves a second look with regards to its representation of football, fandom, globalisation, and gender issues.
The Damned United (2009) is English filmmaker Tom Hooper’s debut feature film, based on David Peace’s novel The Damned Utd (published in 2006). The novel is a fictionalised account of a particular moment in the legendary football career of Brian Clough (1935-2004), who began as a footballer but due to an injury re-channeled his energies towards management. The novel focuses on his stormy, it-should-not-have-been-in-retrospect stint as manager of Leeds United in 1974. During his time there, Clough managed to put the reigning English club at the time at its worst state in years, after being the era’s top club managed with tough love by Don Revie (1927-1989). As a result, Clough and Leeds parted ways after only forty-four days. While sticking closely to the novel, with The Damned United Hooper presents a highly spirited and altogether noteworthy work that examines the interlocking themes of football, film, fiction, history, and male friendship/rivalry.
In Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric (2009), the titular Eric actually refers to two men. One of these Erics is real-life retired French international footballer Eric “the King” Cantona, a football star in Europe beginning in the early 1990s. The other Eric in the film is Eric Bishop, who has reached such an impasse in his life that he starts to imagine conversations with his football hero Cantona. Though definitely lighter fare than is usually the case for Loach, Looking For Eric is nevertheless interesting in the way it mobilises football fandom to construct its narrative—betraying perhaps Loach’s own fandom, if not for Cantona than for football in general.
This week the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, known more commonly as Euro 2012, kicks off. It provides a great opportunity to spotlight a select group of films that address football in various ways. In the process, this spotlight on films on football takes the challenge that Ryan Kent implicitly laid down when he wrote back in a December 2011 piece, titled “Shoot!: The Awkward Relationship Between Film and Football,” in stating that “Football has never really enjoyed a sense of belonging within cinema.” That may be the case to a certain extent, which partly explains the dearth of films on football. As Kent explains, football’s relentless forty-five minute-halves distinguish it from other sports like American football, basketball or tennis and their start-stop nature, a temporal structure that gives itself over more easily to principles of dramatisation.