- THE FRENCH
- Starring: Bjorn Borg
- Directed by: William Klein
- Ratied: unrated
- Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins
It was the Spring of 1981. A former Hollywood actor was the new president. The Soviet Union was a threat to world peace. (Some things haven’t changed.) Tennis rackets were predominantly wooden, but the sport itself was alive and thriving in what was truly a golden age. Originally released in 1982, “The French” is a re-released documentary that gives us unfettered access to some of the greatest legends of tennis as they make their way through the French Open tournament. Thanks to filmmaker William Klein, who is now 96 years old, tennis enthusiasts can bask in the nostalgia of watching the likes of Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, and Ivan Lendl during their peak.
Taking placed from May 25th through June 7th, 1981, the 85th French Open was held per tradition on the outdoor clay courts at Roland Garros in Paris. Klein gives us a backstage pass that allows us to watch private interactions between players as they warm up or as they hang out in the locker room. Better than any “Hard Knocks” episode, “The French” is honest without any frills. We get a true sense of the almost happy-go-lucky nature of Yannick Noah compared to the somber, cool, and determined Borg.
This was an age of tennis when there were all sorts of personalities involved, and the game was played in a much purer form rather than today’s version where titanium rackets smash tennis balls at over 100 mph. The film’s pacing barely hits the speed limit, though, as it often drags along with way too many elongated shots of the crowd rather than focusing more on the players. Furthermore, “The French” focuses most of its time on the men while the female greats are left as almost an afterthought with Evert getting the bulk of the screen time.
The film’s biggest highlight is when McEnroe faces off against Lendl in the quarterfinals. Younger generations have no clue about his legendary tirades on the court and McEnroe does not disappoint during his match. Overall, the lone notable fact about the 1981 tournament is that it was Borg’s 11th Grand Slam title and would ultimately be his last.
Overall, “The French” is a neat look into a time capsule, but will be most enjoyed by tennis fanatics with little appeal beyond that.