Review: John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
by Fabien Lemercier
- Julien Faraut directs a fascinating documentary on the world of tennis, the art of movement and the interior workings of the game, starring the iconic John McEnroe
"This isn't just another film about tennis, or even a film about John McEnroe, we're cameramen working on a film in the process of being made." In a time when globalised events are dissected by 1,000 cameras and other forms of media-based magnifying glasses, who would still dare to believe that an original cinematic take on such a high-profile sport or champion could be possible? In their own way, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno made an attempt with Zidane (presented out of competition at Cannes in 2006), but nothing can really compare to the amazing documentary John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection [+see also:
film profile], unveiled at the Berlinale in 2018 (winner of the Tagesspiegel award for Best Film Award) and released this week in French cinemas by UFO Distribution.
Brought to life following the discovery of a plethora of untouched rushes at the INSEP (National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance) of John McEnroe (world number 1in his sport at the time) during the Roland-Garros 1984 tournament, the film focuses on Gil de Kermadec, sent by his Federation to film footage for tennis coaching purposes. A mission that led him to put together strict boring instructional films for the in vivo study of the movements of champion tennis players. A journey that brought his camera operator, noisy 16mm Arriflex and huge microphone cover to the edge of the central court, close to the chair of the explosive John McEnroe in order to capture footage of the American tennis star.
"You don’t get to see the other tennis player, or even the back and forth of the tennis ball, instead we get the impression that he's playing against himself." John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection gives its audience a hypnotic analysis of technique (by breaking down movements) and the champion’s personality. An in-depth look into both subtle ballet and boxing in search of what the eyes can’t see, calling upon the likes of the famous film critic Serge Daney for whom "clay courts create fiction because tennis is based on a relative countdown and on a player’s ability to create time to win." The game to which John McEnroe dedicated his body and soul ("hostility is his drug, but beware, it's a trick!") and some rare sensitivity (his presence on camera) are accompanied by excessive and exceptionally illogical outbursts about his sporting achievements, proving that he’s certainly not lost his livelihood. An extraordinary perfectionism that came to a dramatic peak on 10 June 1984 in the Roland Garros final against Ivan Lendl, a fabulous battle worthy of some of the best westerns.
An attractive blend of tennis and sports psychology in action, John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection is an unusual documentary that frees itself from the conventional use of archives to create a very personal narrative (including the voice of Mathieu Amalric in the French version) that is often unpredictable and always fascinating, both visually (due to a variety of processes), in terms of commentary (very stimulating) and on a musical level (primarily composed by Free zone).
(Translated from French)
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