Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu's second soccer-themed documentary premiered in the Forum section of the German extravaganza.
World cinema's leading soccer-aficionado Corneliu Porumboiu fumbles his second attempt at tackling the beautiful game with the Berlinale-premiering Infinite Football (Fotbal infinit). Admirers of the Romanian auteur and/or sporting esoterica are the most likely to get a kick out of this 70-minute portrait of a minor government official who dreams up elaborate ways of revolutionizing a very simple sport.
In terms of documentary form, it's much more conventional and accessible than its demandingly conceptual, critically acclaimed 2014 predecessor The Second Game. But even taking into account the film's timely arrival in the year of a World Cup, the philosophically minded miniature will struggle to break out of the festival circuit — where plentiful play is guaranteed on the back of Porumboiu's name.
The writer-director made a spectacularly accomplished feature-length debut at the height of the Romanian New Wave with 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), then garnered wider exposure with his wordy follow-up Police, Adjective (2009). His output in the present decade has been much spottier, though Porumboiu's star seemed to be back in the ascendant with his most recent fictional outing, The Treasure (2015).
Each of these films — along with other examples from his oeuvre — touches on obsessive, extreme, competitive behavior among men, a theme which is front and center in Infinite Football. Softly spoken, stern, sober and serious, middle-aged Laurentiu Ginghina seems unremarkable at first glance. But the more he talks — and dialogue has always formed a crucial element of Porumbiu's playbook — the more of an oddball he turns out to be.
Having been thwarted in his own sporting ambitions by severe injuries in his teenage years, the luckless Ginghina has devoted decades to pondering how football can be "improved." These amendments include the exotic-sounding but actually quite sensible concept of replacing the pitch's traditional square corners with octagonal shapes inspired by east Asian aesthetics. But they usual taking the form of additional rules and complexities, such as restricting player movement to certain zones indicated by lines on the pitch.
As these ideas are expounded, they invariably turn out to deal with balances between freedom and restriction. And while they at no point refer to previous football revolutionaries such as the Netherlands' Rinus Michels (of "total football" fame), they reveal much about the mindset of Ginghina. An intelligent man born into a communist Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, he entered into adulthood when the whole of Eastern Europe was making a rapid transition from repressive totalitarianism to anything-goes capitalism.
Such implications and undercurrents are undeniably intriguing, but could perhaps have been more satisfyingly conveyed in a short. Even at 70 minutes, Infinite Football feels like it contains a significant amount of padding — a section in which Ginghina is interviewed in his office takes a digressive turn when he deals with an elderly lady and her son embroiled in a legal dispute over land ownership. Elsewhere, extended sequences show Porumboiu struggling to understand Ginghina's more elaborate innovations and pointing out obvious flaws in their crazier convolutions.
The filmmaker clearly gains much by hanging out with his stimulating pal; audiences, particularly those not particularly interested in football formations, may feel more detached. And while Ginghina's originality of thought is prodigious, Infinite Football is relatively staid, content to follow established essay-documentary techniques. The colorful closing titles (sampling a Russian animation aside) conclude matters on a lively note — as with The Treasure, Porumboiu dispenses with soundtrack music until the very last seconds — but otherwise this is a visually flat enterprise, shot on mostly cheap-looking video with a wintry palette of grays and blues.
The Second Game, which presented a 1980s soccer match in full with contemporary commentary from Porumboiu and his father — a former football referee of considerable renown — was a bold idea played out at feature length with admirable if somewhat taxing single-mindedness. It gained much from the sometimes ill-tempered interactions between an artistically minded son and his no-nonsense old man.
Here the core relationship between Porumboiu and Ginginha, who seem to be on pretty friendly terms, never quite comes into illuminating focus. Infinite Football has moments of nicely deadpan humor and some deft little touches of insight along the way courtesy of Porumboiu's offbeat protagonist — but major league it certainly is not.
Production company: 42 km film
Director-screenwriter: Corneliu Porumboiu
Producer: Marcela Ursu
Executive producer: Ramona Grama
Cinematographer: Tudor Mircea
Editor: Roxana Szel
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Sales: MK2, Paris
Liga I resumes today, after another long break, but earlier than it was decided, in typical Romanian fashion. Another week might have helped some coaches that changed sides and might have allowed some new faces blend in better, although nothing really prepares you for the realities of our football…
A look at the standings shows there’s little movement to expect upfront, where Steaua feels little to no threat from a chasing pack that’s missing two traditional rivals, Dinamo and Rapid, both paying now (and in the next few years) for the poor management that has now come not only to affect their results, but even to threaten their survival.
5. CFR Cluj
A new record of points for Romanian football in the Champions League’s group stage created the perfect opportunity to cash in on some shrewd investments in foreign players. It was not nice to see CFR give up the fight with Inter in the Europa League and with Steaua in Liga I, but it was realistic and in perfect agreement with the club’s long term business plan, the same that made the Cluj side such an important name in Romanian football, in the last decade.
Rafael Bastos and Modou Sougou left for important transfer fees and the board was not desperate to spend, gambling again on unknown names from abroad, with Robert Maah looking so far good enough to step in and command a place in Paulo Sergio’s first eleven. The Portuguese coach was criticized for the number of defenders used against Inter, but I liked that he worked on a plan, adjusted to the type of players available and his ability will be put to the test until the end of the season, when a place in Europe is a must. Either through the league or the Romanian Cup.
4. Pandurii Tg Jiu
Probably the most entertaining team of the autumn season suffered two big losses: the top coach that’s Petre Grigoras (signed for Otelul Galati) and a top talent like Alexandru Maxim (transferred to VfB Stuttgart).
Ok, we are talking about a club free of financial trouble, who signed a good coach like Cristi Pustai, but I think Pandurii will settle for a European spot, if they can resist the temptation to give up easy points to some clubs in need… Two good moves on the market, with the midfield pair Anton-Predescu moving for almost nothing from the cash-strapped Gloria Bistrita.
3. FC Vaslui
Once aggressive on the market and very ambitious in the league, the club that always managed to finish on a higher position than in the previous year won’t be able to respect the tradition. Vaslui made no significant move in terms of transfers and decided to part ways with top goalie Daniel Coman, probably in an attempt to cut down the wage bill, losing at the same time a leader and a consistent performer. Not the kind of move a title contender does, but it seems that Adrian Porumboiu wasn’t bluffing again, when he stated he’ll try to distance himself from the club…
2. Astra Giurgiu
A wealthy, ambitious, and obviously controversial owner like Ioan Niculae has decided to give it a go this season, taking advantage of the poor season of the usual contenders for the European spots. All the good players stayed and the team is still ran by the caretaker and long serving coach Valentin Sinescu, but he should worry now that with the matches the dangerous TV sports shows will also resume. 🙂
10 points behind Steaua, Astra will probably be more concerned looking over the shoulder, as CFR and Vaslui still look stronger, at least on paper, and would definitely enjoy finishing second.
Categories: Liga I - Season 2012/2013Tags: CFR Cluj, FC Vaslui, Liga 1 Romania, Romanian football, Steaua Bucharest, title contenders