Diary of a somebody

wsc302 Andy Brassell on the French midfielder who filmed his adventures at the 2006 World Cup

The recent screening of Vikash Dhorasoo and Fred Poulet’s film Substitute at the Institut Français’ Ciné Lumière in London was prefaced by a drinks reception in the adjoining library of the Grade II-listed Art Deco building. The elegance of the setting could make many footballers feel ill at ease. The now-retired Dhorasoo seemed more comfortable here than he would have been at some of his clubs.

More than five years have passed since the former France midfielder released his off-kilter video diary of his 2006 World Cup campaign. Shot on an analogue handheld Super-8 camera given to him by his friend Poulet, the director, the film charts the unfolding of Dhorasoo’s hurt as it becomes clear he is a peripheral figure in the squad.

Having been Raymond Domenech’s most-used player in the qualification campaign, Dhorasoo felt “betrayed” by a coach with whom he had a long association. Domenech first picked him for the Under-21 team in 1994. After the World Cup in Germany, Domenech was infuriated by the prospect of Dhorasoo’s film and threatened legal action if there were any images of him in it.

As Philippe Auclair, the journalist, host and interpreter for the night’s post-film Q&A, points out in his introduction, the aftermath of the film is worthy of remark. Domenech’s ire was the tip of the iceberg. The film redefined Dhorasoo as a troublemaker extraordinaire and signalled the start of the end of his career. He became the first player in a generation to be sacked by a French club when he left Paris Saint-Germain in October 2006, after a bust-up with head coach Guy Lacombe. Dhorasoo returned to Italy with Livorno in July 2007. This short-lived arrangement was beset by controversy and his contract was terminated less than six months later.

Even suspending knowledge of the aftermath, Substitute remains a jarring watch. To an extent, the shock is created by the way it contrasts with how football and its stars are generally presented to us. Such is the high intensity with which most see and perceive the game, the sight of our hero sitting reading in his pants seems incredibly workaday. It reminds us of the dead hours around work, time spent waiting for the bus or reading the newspaper in a lunch break.

Dhorasoo told the audience that Poulet’s editing means the films is “a fiction” that represents a part of the truth but not the whole picture. The director draws on moments of solitude to add a sombre quality: “When you’re in your room, you’re alone. But we didn’t film the group bits, where we had dinner together.” The film company Dhorasoo co-owns, Trompe le Monde (Cheat the World), is a nod to this. As are his favourite band, the Pixies.

Maybe his attitude to the experience today is a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the film, Dhorasoo comes towards the end of a sombre monologue in which he recognises how withdrawn he has become and says: “Hopefully, I’ll remember this as a happy experience in years to come.” He knows that time is perhaps a keener editor of events than any film director.

Dhorasoo’s most difficult moment at the World Cup was being a spare part in the group of players sent to acknowledge the fans at the end of the semi-final win over Portugal. “At the same time, I was happy to be in the World Cup final. But life is about paradoxes.”  

Significant good came from the project for Dhorasoo, if not from the World Cup itself. In conversation offstage, Poulet and Dhorasoo described the film as a “beginning”, rather than a finite story in itself. “It’s the story of our friendship,” Poulet said. Contact with the director helped to sustain Dhorasoo in dark moments. As an audience member pointed out, we realise he has become completely detached from his surroundings when he talks to the camera the morning after the quarter-final win over Brazil, saying: “They won.”

When asked of his relationship with the national team now, Dhorasoo responded frankly. “I’m not a supporter of the France team. To play football is my job. When you don’t play, it’s horrible, watching the others play.” Despite Dhorasoo’s intellect, he is just like so many other footballers. Substitute is a remarkable view of the unremarkable, everyday feelings of a footballer.

From WSC 302 April 2012