Infinite Football

 

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A film that invites the viewer to see it as being about much more than football.

 
Infinite Football
 

We do not associate the Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu with documentaries. Even the short films which first made his name were works involving actors, but in 2014 after shooting three features he turned to documentary to film The Second Game. That film was not released here but it has some obvious links with 2018's Infinite Football which reaches us in the same week as its fictional successor The Whistlers. Thus both documentaries are outwardly about sport (Porumboiu is a great football fan) and both are centred on a talk between the filmmaker and one other - in The Second Game it was his father, Adam, and here it is a friend of his, a man who is an administrative clerk in local government and now in his fifties, Laurentiu Ginghinǎ. But, just as Porumboiu's two previous features to be released here, 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006) and Police, Adjective (2009), were totally individual idiosyncratic works, so too his documentaries would appear to be utterly distinctive pieces breaking new ground. It should be said for starters that the stress on football, however central in them, is not really the point.

 

Having not seen The Second Game, the impression that Infinite Football made on me was that of a work that was truly innovative, even if it did invite certain comparisons with Porumboiu's finest film, his debut 12:08 East of Bucharest. That piece was centred on a local television station in Vaslui ineptly putting out a live programme marking the sixteenth anniversary of the day when the dictator Ceausescu had been deposed. Superficially a satirical comedy, it made deeply serious points about the way in which history as handed down is distorted by memory as well as by the personal agendas of those involved. The element of social criticism surfaces again in Infinite Football as does the sense of life's absurdities which fuels Pumboiu's very individual comic tone (the nearest cinematic equivalent in that respect is probably Sweden's Roy Andersson but Porumboiu's work feels more engaged politically).

 

It is also the case that, like his first feature, Infinite Football is again set in Vaslui and avoids anything strikingly cinematic in its shooting style. It is simply a record of a series of chats between the director and his old friend and fellow football fanatic Laurentiu Ginghinǎ who early on talks about two youthful accidents, one in 1986 when his right fibula was injured in a match. This recollection is shown as the two men stand on the very spot where it happened and later on their conversations continue in Ginghinǎ's office, at a sports centre and in his home. Apart from seeing photographs of his marriage in 2008, we learn little of his private life but, as he reveals the relative boredom of a job he has maintained for most of his life, two things emerge clearly. One is the way in which his passion for football has developed into proposals constantly elaborated and rethought in order to find new ways to change the game or even create a parallel form of it through new rules or by way of such innovations as changing the shape of the pitch.  Given that his immediate action to his first injury had been that the rules were wrong, that incident could well be the source of his obsession. The other point that stands out is the extent to which chance settles the form a life will take: twice Ginghinǎ planned to leave Romania for a new life in America and twice events prevented it, just as years before his injuries had blocked other possibilities.

 

Those with an interest in football (a category to which I emphatically do not belong) may be at an advantage here as various possible rule changes and other ideas mooted are discussed in detail (in point of fact Porumboiu does not always accept the proposals that his friend suggests but that never threatens their bond). However, the viewers are invited to respond to Ginghinǎ's obsession in any way they choose seeing it as a mere eccentricity or instead as a passion that gives meaning to his life (that the talk at this stage leads to parallels with such heroes as Spiderman and Superman is characteristic of the film's surprises). It is no less unexpected in this context to have the talk interrupted by an old lady calling on Ginghinǎ for help over a land dispute although the implied criticisms of bureaucracy and the indications of social injustice are very much in line with Porumboiu's other films.

 

In effect the main difference between this film and 12:08 East of Bucharest lies in the fact that the serious themes rather than emerging in a direct way are there under the surface leaving it to the individual viewer to pick up on them or not. Those who fail to do so and who also lack any great interest in football may well be bored although sensibly the film limits itself to a running time of 70 minutes. Ginghinǎ's belief in the freedom of the ball may be questioned, but free movement for people is part of the film's broader concerns. Since Porumboiu's Police, Adjective shows in its finest scene an acute interest in language and in the meaning of words, it is fitting that this film should at its close ponder a biblical text by considering the most accurate translation of key words in it. Having illustrated the frustrations of everyday life as it is, Porumboiu surprises us further by concluding with a plea for change advocating the need for a less violent world and one in which the rules that apply foster harmony. This highly unusual piece gives its philosophy a delightfully visual expression at the close through the use of animation, yet another touch that confirms that this film really is unlike any other.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Laurentiu Ginghinǎ, Corneliu Porumboiu.

 

Dir Corneliu Porumboiu, Pro Marcela Ursu, Screenplay Corneliu Porumboiu, Ph Tudor Mircea, Ed Roxana Szel.

 

42Km Film-Anti-Worlds Releasing.
70 mins. Romania. 2018. Rel: 8 May 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.