John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection

Directed by Julien Faraut
2018, France, 95 min
French with English subtitles

Saturday, November 3 / 5 pm | Cinematheque

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Jean-Luc Godard once said, “Cinema lies, sports doesn’t.” Julien Faraut’s sophisticated and witty found-footage ode to tennis legend John McEnroe takes this maxim as its point of departure. An essayistic investigation into the poetics of athletics, the film is composed largely of 16mm footage of Johnny Mac competing in the 1984 French Open—clubbing magisterial aces while bickering to no end with umpires, ball boys, and courtside cameramen alike. In the Realm of Perfection inventively renders its subject as both a brilliant athlete and a complicated man utterly alone in his greatness, fueled by, as the film/tennis critic Serge Daney wrote, “the eternal injustice of which he and only he is the victim.” Narrated by Mathieu Amalric, In the Realm of Perfection is as much a lesson in cinematic form as it is in tennis form. And it comes damn close to achieving the titular feat that McEnroe never quite managed.

“What lingers, when this movie is done, are not the regular rallies, during which we survey the whole court, but those moments when we focus on McEnroe alone—on the dancing shuffle of his feet as he bobs and races for a return. Swap the sneakers for tap shoes and the dusty clay for a mirrored floor, and we could be watching Fred without Ginger, lost in the delirium of his art.”—Anthony Lane, New Yorker