Monday, 28 May 2007

Anyone for tennis?

I'd like to pride myself on my arthouse credentials. I've sat in the Everyman cinema in Hampstead watching things like Last Year in Marienbad, thinking what on earth are they on about?

About the only thing I did get on the first viewing was the game with matchsticks that one of the dinner-suited protagonists played with an equally stiff-faced lady.

I've matured since then and I now, after buying the DVD and watching it a few more times, understand the subtleties of Alain Robbe-Grillet's screenplay and Alain Resnais' immaculate direction.

The Battle of Algiers is one of those films that swirled around in London every now and again while I was living there. And each time there was a chance of seeing it, I've thought about whether I really want to go out and view such lugubrious subject matter.

On one of my last Sundays in London before staying in Paris to cover the French tennis Open, I saw that the film was heading to the ICA. It would also be there on some days in June.

As the evening approached I began to waver. It seemed it would be such a balmy evening. Maybe I'd hang out with the colleagues for a few drinks.

As I'd be away from London until mid June, I phoned up the ICA to ask what dates the film would be playing that month.

The cinema receptionist who answered said that the ICA's June film schedule was out and there was no mention of the film in it.

"What does that mean?" I asked. But as I posed the question I realised I probably knew the answer.

"Well, if it's not listed, it usually means it's not going to be on," replied the receptionist.

He paused and then remarked that he too had noticed that the film was scheduled for days in June.

As both of us were keen to avoid a telephonic clin d'oeil to a Marienbad world of spoken unspokens, we both agreed it was best to seize the attainable.

I went to see the film. And I probably saw it at the right time. I emerged from the screening and, quoting one of the phrases Dr Reid came out with at university about Goethe's Faust, I proclaimed to myself: a film of life, for life.

I'd seen a piece about colonialism and insurrection in Algiers and it had Baghdad written all over it.

After my first day covering the tennis at Roland Garros, I was listening to BBC World Service and, lo and behold, a known unknown. Some American army colonel is on the air saying how the Batle of Algiers is being studied - probably by both sides - to see what mistakes to avoid and what advantages to exploit.

The organisers of the French Open started the tournament on a Sunday in 2006 and were very impressed by the response of the public who paid to see the likes of Roger Federer and the French number one Amelie Mauresmo. Federer said then he didn't like starting on a Sunday but in his nice guy way he intimated what do they [the organisers] care about the players?

So for 2007, the organisers scheduled 24 matches on six courts and the crowds came flooding in. Interestingly Mr Federer was not down for the Sunday start.

Sadly the rain gushed down and only seven of the matches were finished, six of them after a six hour rain delay.

And there's no compensation for the people who bought tickets in the belief that they would be seeing four matches for however much they forked out.

I'm only a vague student of market economics. But this really does not strike me as good PR.

I'm certainly not about to broach the arcane technicalities of the French Tennis Federation but it seems to me that if you pay, say 40 euros, to see four matches and three of them are called off due to bad weather you should be able to give 30 euros back to someone.

I know it's not the federation's fault that it rained but the lust for growth at the expense of the human reality does make you wonder just how much the executives really want to expand the appeal.

Ultimately as we all know it's about hearts and minds. Do the top suits and skirts really believe in their own advertising slogan: "Le tennis - un sport réservé à tous"?