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John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
(L'Empire de la perfection)

Julien Faraut

In his prime, tennis champion John McEnroe was legendary not only for his brilliance but also for his petulance, tending to use the court as a personal stage for his displays of unrestrained self. This film is a testament, not just to McEnroe’s talents but those of Gil de Kermadec, who worked in the 1960s for INSEP, the French national sport and training institute, and whose career recording the game was itself a devoted pursuit of the ineffable.

"John McEnroe was legendary not only for his brilliance but also for his petulance..."

Faraut had access to Kermadec’s huge trove of gorgeously filmic, 16mm colour footage, culminating the obsessive analysis of McEnroe’s performance at Roland Garros in 1984. With narration by Mathieu Amalric, In the Realm of Perfection examines the player’s relationship to the camera, which McEnroe treats at once as an additional opponent and as a supporting actor in his personal psychodrama.

What on paper might be a standard sporting bio-doc, largely relevant only to tennis aficionados or fans of John McEnroe, instead becomes a lovely meditation on time and movement, dedication and obsession, image and perception. This is a fascinating essay on film, spectatorship and, yes, the meaning of perfection.