John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection directed by Julien Faraut [9/10]

One of the oddest documentaries I’ve ever had the privilege to watch, and I say privilege because this is drama of a fierce, fierce kind. “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection” pivots around reels and reels of tennis instructional footage taken at Roland Garros during the French Open in the 70s and 80s, shot with noisy slow-mo cameras. Faraut cleverly sidles up to his focus, namely McEnroe, clearly an obsession of Gil de Kermadec, the French head of the filming project, and you wonder if Faraut is going to look more generally at tennis talent. But the final two thirds of the movie is all McEnroe, juxtaposing his artistry (one can swoon at the slo-mo of his drop shots and drop volleys) and his on-court antics. Was he spoiled brat or was it all a means of revving up performance? Faraut indulges in some pop psychology but then the final twenty minutes comes down to one match in June 1984, when McEnroe, during a nearly flawless year, takes the first two sets in his Roland Garros final against Ivan Lendl, only to begin to flounder. An electric guitar soundtrack roars as the slo-mo cameras from different angles capture the pent-up agonies on McEnroe’s face, in his posture. This is not acting, this is real, this is film showing the inner person under utmost stress. Extraordinary, I left the cinema shaking my head in awe at Faraut’s filmic genius.

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