It's no longer rectangular; it's become circular in a way.
We wanted to make a portrait of a man: a working man who happens to be Zinedine Zidane, and the work happens to be football. It wasn't a particularly good day at the office for him he didn't score any goals, and he got red-carded. But we wanted what we did to be along the lines of a Robert Bresson picture; to capture the honesty of the everyday.
Kon Ichikawa's 1965 Tokyo Olympiad was a reference, and more for me than for Philippe the NFL. I wasted my youth watching 16mm, fantastically well-photographed NFL [footage]. Beautiful stuff, [shot by] cameramen who'd just come back from the war [in Vietnam]. Seagulls might flap by in front of them, and it wouldn't be edited out. There was something rough about the NFL stuff that we wanted. There's a couple of scenes in Zidane where the camera drifts up. That was deliberate, but it's a reference to the sort of accidental beauty that can happen in that type of footage.
SFBG One thing that the film brings across is that there are long periods of the game when Zidane is meditative and literally just standing. Then when he does move, it's incredibly sudden and really focused.
DG Some people have said that it's a little reminiscent of nature programming. He's definitely on the hunting side of things rather than the hunted.
It's an exercise in one man's solitude, though. There happen to be 80,000 people in the stadium, and he's part of a team of 11, but there are huge periods where he's completely alone.
Before shooting, we went to about 15 or 16 games and sat on the pitch. One of the big differences about the way we shot the film is that, apart from one camera, everything was on his level. There's only one aerial camera that we used very sparingly as a backup. We knew the way he would walk around and that he'd pace himself during the game, so when we talked to the [project's] producers, another reference we used was the corrida. You just don't know if he's the bull or the bullfighter.
If you were inside the head of Zinedine Zidane, you wouldn't see him at all, which would sort of defeat the purpose of the film. But we did want to give his point of view, and there are specific passages where you see him move his head as if he's a little disoriented. At points like those you don't really know if you're looking at the world through his eyes or looking at him.
SFBG What was his response to your portrait?
DG He's not a man of many words, but he got pretty animated [when he saw it].
We kept him informed. We knew it was going to be a fairly hardcore exercise and that it was better to tell him how we were approaching it step-by-step rather than just turn up after a year's worth of editing and hit him with [the finished work].
There were a couple of times [during the process] where he was really surprised and said, "That doesn't look like me, this is not how I look on TV, this is not how I look in a newspaper this is how my brother looks late at night talking to my mother."
We were nervous about how he felt he was portrayed because of the red card and the violence [in the match]. But he said, "I would do it again. The guy was an asshole."
SFBG That brings me to an inevitable question: what was it like to see things play out somewhat similarly in the final match of the 2006 World Cup?
DG I was in the stadium, and I couldn't believe it.