The archival footage in this strange and striking doco-biopic documenting tennis hothead John McEnroe’s record-breaking 1984 season has lost none of its power to rattle and rouse.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2018
Portrait docos rarely come as idiosyncratic as this loose, freewheeling look at tennis superstar John McEnroe in his tantrum-prone prime. McEnroe recorded a monumental win rate of 96.5% during the 1984 season, culminating at the French Open where a French film crew was scrupulously documenting every stroke and meltdown. Working almost exclusively from a leftover archive of their 16mm rushes, director Julien Faraut reconstructs a compelling portrait of the player from the scraps.
With actor Mathieu Amalric as narrator, Faraut interrogates McEnroe’s brilliance and blemishes – from the technical mastery of his movement (observed in hypnotic slo-mo) to the unconventional relationship he had with his rage. It all culminates in McEnroe’s gripping showdown with Ivan Lendl in the 1984 French Open – still a suspenseful showstopper to this day. But for every portraiture convention Faraut adheres to, there’s an unexpected flourish to counter it: animated breaks, witty interludes and unexpected cinematic references (films excerpted include Milos Forman’s Amadeus and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull).
What results is a wholly distinct meditation on time, movement and the unique ability of film (and McEnroe) to manipulate both. The rare biopic that seems as fascinated by the images of the man as it is by the man himself. — JF
“Less a biopic and more a thesis about human psychology… [McEnroe] has arguably never been profiled so intriguingly as in In the Realm of Perfection, which draws on archive footage, psychology and film theory to present a multi-faceted portrait of a complex man.” — Nikki Baughan, Screendaily