Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Federer Twelve Final Days review: Tennis legend bids an emotional farewell in this comfortably dull documentary


In 2022, Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer announced his retirement and playing the final professional match of his career at the Laver Cup, at the age of 41. A new sports documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, and video artist Joe Sabia, attempts to place the camera as a fly on the wall for the next few days, as it approaches the man reflecting on his life and career, and the heavy weight that builds up to the last match. In more ways than one, this offering feels akin to a limp eulogy, with a predictable format honouring the personality with thoughtful and sophisticated introspection. It lacks energy and bite, and never quite matches up to the dynamic personality of its own subject. (Also read: Roger Federer opens up on grand Wimbledon return after retirement, sitting in Royal Box)

A still from Federer: Twelve Final Days.

Not Asif Kapadia’s best

It is a curious offering from Asif Kapadia, who is not new to the subject of sports documentaries. He has earlier helmed Senna and Diego Maradona, with a deft eye for complexity and reason. Besides, he also helmed Amy, one of the most compelling documentaries I have ever seen, which examined the tragic life of singer Amy Winehouse. In that film, the camera was always awake, constantly shifting and processing details, perspectives and revelations. The camera itself was a character, which turned to the viewer at many places. None of that creative abandon is seen in this perfectly decent documentary about a very decent sportsman who lived and played the game flawlessly.

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It is not a matter of looking for unnecessary crisis. The issue arises that the film really does not have much to say about the man, and the legend that we have seen do wonders on the court. The 90-minute documentary feels perfectly curated to move you and in some places, it succeeds. So that means success? Everyone involved with the project seems to lack the very passion that has made Roger Federer the player. The 90-minute film begins with him reading out the announcement of his retiring, and then it goes live. Family members arrive. Anna Wintour calls. It rains in Switzerland. The theatricality of this entire episode goes on for around 20 minutes, without adding anything new or exciting to hold through.

All too predictable

The other parts are fairly predictable, as family members, peers, and agents talk about the legend that is Federer; we are shown clips from his early days, clips from his most remarkable moments during the matches. Ardent fans of the player will undoubtedly love it, and perhaps this documentary is tailor made keeping them in mind. One of the most interesting bits comes when the film delves into the striking relationship between between Federer and his rivals- Rafael Nadal, Novak Djkovic and Andy Murray. The camaraderie off the match is a powerful contrast to the energetic rivalry during the match. Yet the film barely touches on these relationships, and the next thing we know, the final match is here and all of them are crying tears. Fair enough, a lot of tears will follow and all’s well with a man showing his gratitude towards his fans and family.

This is a documentary that barely teases with interesting details about the man behind the legend, but feels too scripted and polished to dig deeper. It is a fittingly diplomatic and disciplined farewell for a much-loved sportsman, but lacks its own voice. It painfully begs the question of the access of the subject for the film, and whether this sense of form-fitting orchestration can communicate anything revelatory or not.

Federer: Twelve Final Days is available to stream on Prime Video.

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