REVIEW: Anelka: L’Incompris (2020 – Documentary)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of the documentary Anelka: L’Incompris — Directed by Frank Nataf.

Once upon a time, I reviewed another Netflix documentary about a French professional footballer. I remember being perplexed as to why that documentary, Antoine Griezmann: The Making of a Legend, insinuated that Antoine Griezmann, its subject, was already becoming a legend of the game, and I also remember how it felt like the documentary was more fascinated with France’s achievement at the World Cup than Griezmann’s own achievements as a footballer. That documentary felt incomplete because it was about a footballer whose career was by no means over and, again, because it felt like the documentarians really wanted to focus on the World Cup.

This documentary, on the other hand, does not feel superficial, its subject is much more deserving of a feature-length documentary (in part because his career is over), and it is also never afraid of discussing potentially controversial elements. Of course, Nicolas Anelka — this documentary’s subject — was a much more controversial footballer than Griezmann is right now, but Frank Nataf’s Anelka: L’Incompris is, on the whole, a better documentary than The Making of a Legend.

Although Nicolas Anelka, on paper, had a glorious career — including as a player at clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain., Arsenal, Real Madrid, and Chelsea F.C. — his career has, to some extent, been spoilt by controversy. He has been labeled a problematic player ever since he was 17-years-old, and his tumultuous history with the French national team could fill textbooks. What I really liked about this documentary was that even though Anelka comes across as a private perfectionist, he is unafraid of declaring some notable periods of success as failures. He is very honest about his time as a young national team player, and the documentary is very revealing when Nicolas Anelka discusses how one missed penalty has, to him, blemished an otherwise quite good time with Chelsea F.C.

The documentary features interesting interviews with individuals such as Omar Sy, Didier Drogba, Patrice Evra, Arsene Wenger, and Thierry Henry, as well as his family, whose opinions help to make the documentary feel almost complete. This is, of course, a French documentary, and, therefore, it all builds up to the controversy surrounding his relationship with the former national team coach Raymond Domenech during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It is, however, an outright shame that the documentary does not include representatives of the newspaper L’Equipe, whose front-page quote was allegedly false and malicious, and that Raymond Domenech has not been interviewed by Frank Nataf. Domenech’s explanation of the incident only comes via footage from another documentary, which is a real shame.

So, while I really enjoyed watching this engaging and honest documentary about a controversial — possibly misunderstood — football figure who, as the song goes, did it his way, it is unfortunate that the documentary, which is also curiously structured, does not include a fresh interview from Domenech. With that having been said, I am sure football fans will enjoy watching a figure as prominent as Nicolas Anelka ‘set the record straight,’ even though his documentary is nowhere near as entertaining and comprehensive as Jason Hehir’s ESPN documentary The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, which is undoubtedly this year’s finest sports documentary.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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