Famously combative tennis player John McEnroe may not be the first person to come to mind when you think of perfection, any more than tennis seems like the most cinematic, or cinema-like, of sports. But the French look at things differently than we do, to put it mildly, and Julien Faraut’s experimental documentary John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection makes a highly Gallic case for both. The picture consists mostly of French footage of and about tennis from the 1970s and ’80s, of which there is plenty; Faraut often remixes the footage as we’re watching it, emphasizing the analog nature of the medium, including a faux-break in the film with a Leader Lady cameo. (Look it up.)
The overall game is less important than the given player, in this case the eternally volatile McEnroe, who hated being recorded in any way. In the Realm of Perfection doesn’t really become about McEnroe as a personality until the third act — a rather surprisingly nail-biting retelling of the Men’s Singles Final of the French Open on June 10, 1984, a three-hour match that history tells us that McEnroe lost. But judging from his obvious thrill in displaying that McEnroe arrived on court at 3:16, it’s clear which realm Faraut considers ol’ cranky John to be from.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.