Berlinale 2018: Tennis & Cinema Collide in 'In the Realm of Perfection'
by Alex Billington
February 24, 2018
"Cinema lies. Sport does not." That's the quote, from Godard, that bookends this film and it encapsulates the entire concept of this marvelous documentary. In the Realm of Perfection is a worth-discovering film made by French filmmaker Julien Faraut, and is made up entirely of footage filmed in the 1980s by Gil De Kermadec. Faraut explores the connection between cinema and tennis by examining the reels of footage that were shot in the 1980s by this die-hard French tennis lover, who was filming John McEnroe to make at-the-time modern instructional / educational cinema focused on sports. It's an entrancing film, that lulls you into its rhythm and discussion about sport and the unique mind of John McEnroe and the art of tennis.
Everyone who followed tennis in the 70s and 80s knows that John McEnroe is unlike any other player, not only in terms of his skill but also his attitude. Filmmaker and tennis aficionado Gil De Kermadec became fascinated by McEnroe and started filming him during his matches at the Roland Garros Stadium in France. Instead of filming the match itself, their cameras were trained on McEnroe specifically, giving us a much closer look at his body and his performance (and his amusing interactions/comments during the match). All of this footage is integrated as a study of cinema, discussing the techniques Gil and his team used, including very early versions of high frame rate, slow-motion. On one hand he's examining McEnroe and how he was so good, but the doc also looks at how film gives us an entirely unique perspective that most ignore or miss.
This film is such a wonderful discovery (it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival) and it's entirely entrancing, not only for cinema lovers, but for anyone who enjoys sports and the art of physical performance. I love that it's made up of nothing but archival footage, most of which is just fascinating to see because the sports cinematography is so damn good. There's quite a bit of humor in it, in thanks largely to McEnroe being such a volatile and hilarious person to watch, and because the filmmaking is clever enough to provide some levity at the right moments. As much as it may seem boring to watch non-stop tennis footage from the 80s, that's not the case at all, and the way this is all edited together makes it flow so smoothly. I could've kept watching this go on for hours & hours, analyzing the tennis and filmmaking and referees and crowds and everything.
In the Realm of Perfection is the perfect companion piece to the recent feature film Borg/McEnroe starring Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe, and I definitely recommend watching them together (preferably the feature film first then this documentary after). They work together so well, providing alternate yet complimentary examinations into the minds of world-class athletes who are obsessed with perfection. This documentary is especially appealing to cinema lovers and filmmakers, because it's also such a geeky look at the way film can capture more than meets the eye. There's a serious art to the way Gil and his crew filmed McEnroe, and it's crazy captivating to watch. I love discovering films that are as much about cinema as they are about real life.
Alex's Berlinale 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
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