The French anthropologist Christian Bromberger has studied and written about football games as a kind of ritual that provides an “inexhaustible terrain of interpretation” for those who participate and watch. In his French-language book “Le match de football,” he studied how crowds experienced and interpreted games in the European football heartlands of Marseille, Milan, and Naples. He condensed the theoretical conclusions he came to through this research in his 1995 article “Football as World-View and as Ritual.”
One of the more remarkable works that captures the form and content of this ritual is the 2006 film Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait, by the film-makers and conceptual artists Douglas Gordon and Phillippe Parreno. On April 23, 2005, they installed seventeen cameras in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid to film a full game between Spanish Liga teams Real Madrid and Villarreal CF. But they focused the cameras not on the ball, but rather on one entrancing player, Zinedine Zidane, considered one of the greatest footballers in history.
Since it’s release, the film has garnered effusive praise from some quarters and sharp criticism from others. While it had a long run in theaters in France as well as being shown commercially in the U.K. and other European countries, in the U.S. it has only been shown in small art houses and film festivals.
The film’s directors, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, have a background on experimental contemporary art, including video installations, and the film is also clearly an experiment. (Whether it is a success of failure as such is the key question). Like many other experimental films, it presents its argument not so much through narrative or exposition but through form. It is, among other things, an attempt to represent sport in a way that is radically different from the kinds of portrayals were are used to, which either provide us a global picture of live game or else highlights that emphasize the climaxes of the game over the empty spaces in between. Of course, it is also a portrait of Zidane, and the reactions to the film also have much to do with the very different ways people see him as both a player and an icon.
Here are two interesting discussions of the film
This week in the “Soccer Politics” class at Duke University, we are asking the students to post comments in response to this post that bring together their reading of the 1995 Bromberger article on “Football as World-View and as Ritual” with a viewing of Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait. Specifically, we are asking them to find specific moments in the film that speak to or illustrate specific points made in Bromberger’s article about how a football match works, and we can see within it. In doing so, we ask them to share specific quotes from Bromberger along with specific moments in the film.
Students, please post your response in the comments section below by 5 p.m. on Wednesday January 17th. We also welcome other comments about the article and film!