Gig review: Mogwai @ Manchester International Festival

By Marios Papaloizou

There is often a fine line between art and sport – football, or ‘the beautiful game’, is a perfect example of this.

While some do not see the artistic merits of the game its ability to create aesthetic movements that demonstrate skill, desperation, helplessness, and technique are unparalleled.

Watching Zinedine Zidane play the beautiful game was like watching a composer create a symphony.

As he glided with the grace across the field the Frenchman’s stoicism was echoed through his effortless control and dribbling style.

It seemed as though he was always two steps ahead of opponents; using a feint, first touch, step-over or pirouette he beguiled anyone who tried to take his ball.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is a fantastic movie which does an incredible job of capturing this brilliance.

The film follows the sublime World Cup winner playing a match for Real Madrid against Villareal at the Bernabeu Stadium in 2005 – the camera stays with Zidane on and off the ball as he drifts in and out of the game.

The visuals alone are hypnotic and mesmerizing but, when combined with Mogwai’s soundtrack, the result is a beautifully-crafted portrait of an artist.

Mogwai’s live performance of the soundtrack with the film projected on the back wall of the Albert Hall’s magnificent auditorium was something to behold.

The sweltering room with a silent audience and the drone of Mogwai’s ambient music created a unique cinematic experience.

Even though the heat wave delayed the performance by an hour the hot room somehow accentuated the atmosphere.

As Spanish commentary belted out into the darkness the audience fanned themselves in what felt like a 1950s Latin American cinema experience.

Mogwai’s soundtrack fit the images perfectly with crescendo’s rising and falling during Zidane’s tumultuous performance.

After assisting Real’s equalizer Zidane becomes gradually more irritated until he is sent off in the final minutes for his role in a brawl.

As a player Zidane had a fiery temperament and was prone to occasional outburst of aggression – being such a graceful and stoic player these outbursts always seemed to come out of the blue.

However the film captures slight irritations in Zidane’s demeanour as the game progresses.

These nuances are beautifully documented and matched with the ominous tones of Mogwai’s music.

Sitting at the front of the stage with the screen above them allowed for a rapid shift of attention between the film and Mogwai and back again.

Nothing was rushed during the concert; the band would finish a song and we would turn our attention to the film leaving them alone to get ready for the next piece.

The show functioned in brilliant harmony with all three aspects (the music, room, and film) coming together to produce an engrossing multifarious artistic experience.

As a football enthusiast I can accept that bias might be present in my eulogizing of the show but, even for those who do not like football, there was much more on offer.

The portrait of a truly great athlete and the solitude that can accompany a player throughout a match as he drifts around the field looking for opportunities is in itself fascinating.

The narrative is not necessarily about football; instead it is the journey of a man performing at the pinnacle of his pressure-filled job.

The quotes from Zidane that permeate the film echo this sentiment and Mogwai’s music tie the whole piece together.

Should the band decide to perform this again, and you did not have the fortune to see it last week, then I urge you to buy a ticket and go and see it.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Bethell via MIF, with thanks.

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