John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection is a fascinating sports documentary about one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
McEnroe is one of the more interesting figures in tennis let alone the world of sports. Far too many of us know him for his famed temper. He’s not afraid of being self-deprecating and make fun of himself to this extent. Anger Management, for example. If you’re tuning in expecting the 94 minute film to be filled with interviews, expect to be disappointed. It’s a documentary but it’s not one of the classic biographical types.
Writer-director Julien Faraut utilizes 16mm-shot footage from the 1984 French Open when McEnroe faced Ivan Lendl. This was back at a time in which McEnroe was the top-ranked tennis player in the world. Don’t let the lack of HD imagery fool you because this is what went in that era. Faraut is really able to take advantage of today’s technology in showing the footage in slow-motion. This is allows us to get inside of McEnroe’s head in many ways because we can study just how he’s approaching the game.
We aren’t immune to times in which McEnroe’s anger is noticeable. It does help to make him an interesting figure to study. Despite his trademark anger, he’s so much more as a tennis player. Faraut’s not-so-typical documentary can be seen as a character study in this way. When you think about it, a tennis analyst can only tell us so much in their real-time commentary. In spite of all of their knowledge, they can’t get inside someone else’s head. Who is to know what McEnroe was thinking without asking him himself?
It also shows the differences between cinema and sport in so many ways. While some sports programming displays replays, everything that we see is usually happening live. Slowing down the footage can change our entire understanding of any given play in sports. When you see something happening live, it’s all so quick! You can’t tell if there was any hesitation. This is the advantage of using the slow-motion technology.
The footage was shot by Gil de Kermadec over the course of a few years during the 1980s. Faraut discovered the footage while searching the archives. Gil de Kermadec was obsessed with tennis. He believed that filmmaking could lead to a better way of analyzing the sport. It’s definitely an interesting idea to say the least.
Because the footage was shot three decades ago, the difference is very telling. It’s not the high definition imagery that has spoiled viewers. It may feel like something is wrong with the screen but nothing is wrong.
While John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection may ultimately be a character study, there’s more to tennis than just hitting a ball across the net.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Julien Faraut
NARRATOR: Mathieu Amalric
FEATURING: John McEnroe