Dir. William Klein, France, 1981, 135 minutes
Klein’s tense record of the 1981 French Open—with Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, and others—is also a canny observation of the mechanics of performance. The French Open (known backhandedly as “The French”) is the most esteemed of the grand tennis tournaments. In 1981, an uncanny convergence of great players occurred as Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova, Vitas Gerulaitis, Hana Mandlíková, Jimmy Connors, and others made their way to the rain-soaked courts near Paris. For Klein, this was an opportunity to observe the mechanics of virtuosic performance, but with the addition of the mental wear and tear that such engagement can bring. A hushed tension builds throughout the film as the onlookers pan their noggins, coaches gaze with dreary bemusement, locker rooms bristle with anxious energy, and the players go to seed. At the center of it all stands the impenetrable Bjorn Borg, precise, unflappable, and dogged. The French is fourteen days of unwavering stress, broken only by sporadic downpours and the gasps of surrender. In tennis, love is always having to say you’re sorry.