As much about obsession and cinema as it is sport, director Julien Faraut’s unique storytelling style sheds new light on one of sports most relentlessly documented figures.
“Cinema lies, sport doesn’t,” says the Jean-Luc Godard quote that opens John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection. Immediately the choice of that line tells you everything you need to know about Julien Faraut’s meticulous documentary: it’s about sport, yes, but it’s also about cinema. It begins with kitsch instructional films on how to play tennis by Gil de Kermadec, shot in the 1960s on 16mm. De Kermadec is our entry point as it’s his obsession with tennis, his obsession with capturing it, and his obsession with the man who mastered it, John McEnroe that centres the film.
Considered one of the greatest players of all time, McEnroe’s personal and professional life has been relentlessly captured on screen in documentaries, parodied in comedies, and even displayed in biopics (Shia LaBeouf played him in Borg vs McEnroe ). Yet he has never quite been portrayed like he has in John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, a wonderfully weird and – at times – Wes Anderson-esque documentary set at the final of the 1984 French Open between McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. Mathieu Amalric’s playful voiceover helps weave the audience in and out of that physical event, with film theory and archived clips creating a truly unique viewing experience unlike any other in the sports film genre.