In his latest documentary, out in U.S. theaters on August 22, French filmmaker Julien Faraut takes a close look at American superstar John McEnroe, a tennis player who became a case study on perfectionism in sports.
Julien Faraut is the director of several documentaries blending sports and cinema, and exhumed 600 meters of “instructional” film reel designed to teach tennis technique from the French national sports archives. The images were filmed between 1976 and 1985 by Gil de Kermadec, former national technical director of the French tennis league. This filmmaking pioneer helped provide most of the director’s footage for the movie.
One recording in particular, focused on John McEnroe, really got Faraut’s attention. The American player renowned for his foul temper was the world number 1 in the 1980s. But while he was a seven-time winner of the British and American Grand Slam tournaments, he had never emerged victorious from Roland Garros in France. On the day before, the stakes could not have been higher… The documentary is first and foremost an homage to McEnroe’s exclusively offense-based playing style. His perfect movements and unique service — with his back to the net — are filmed from all angles and often in slow-motion. And through the images, a complex personality begins to show through. That of a man feared by referees, spectators, and journalists for his infamous rages and megalomania. “During the 1980s, the crowds expected McEnroe to put on a show by going ballistic,” says Julien Faraut.
The final 30 minutes of the movie shows the Lendl-McEnroe final at Roland Garros in 1984 and is worthy of a wild-west showdown. “McEnroe was at the height of his career, but the clay courts used for the French tournament was not his strong suit. He trained relentlessly to win the only major event missing from his list of victories. But things did not play out as smoothly as expected…”
U.S. release: August 22 (Film Forum, NY)
Runtime: 95 min
Director: Julien Faraut
With: John McEnroe
Voice-over: Mathieu Amalric
U.S. distributor: UFO Distribution
Article published in the August 2018 issue of France-Amérique