About half way through his film THE SECOND GAME, Corneliu Porumboiu jokes to his father Adrian that the 25-year-old football game they’re watching on scratchy TV video recording is like one of his own films: ‘it’s long, and nothing happens’. And so they watch (unseen), along with us, this dour goalless derby played out in the almost constant blizzard that renders it near black and white, and we’re often inclined to agree. Porumboiu père, who refereed the match, is in general unimpressed. No one wants to look at an old game, any more than an old film. It’s done, it’s over. Corneliu is more romantic. A football nut, he appeared in full strip as cover boy of the 2009 TIFF programme, and he’s always looking for the skill, the meaningfulness, the heroic angle. Meanwhile Adrian reminisces without sentimentality about the way football was then, a year before the fall of Ceauşescu, the corruption, the absurdities, how two out of three referees were informers, how the camera never showed fights on the pitch, because ‘Communists always played fair’, but turned discreetly away onto the crowd instead, how the rules, of football as well as Romanian society, have changed.
That the two teams involved, Steaua and Dinamo Bucharest, were respectively the teams of the Army – Ceauşescu’s favourite team – and the Securitate – his son Valentin’s – must have made refereeing this the trickiest of tricky tasks, but Adrian views it all with equanimity. And so we go on watching alongside them from our cosy present. Conversation lags, it’s often really boring, making our wandering minds try to focus on the action on the pitch – look, there’s a very young Dan Petrescu – or even on the bleak abstract beauty of the thing, and soon, somehow, you get drawn in almost against your better judgement into this irrelevant event of so long ago that is meaningless (yes, maybe Adrian’s right) to you.
But gradually it starts to mean something, and like Corneliu you start to realise there’s an enormous heroism in there, to battle on in this awful situation, the referee always running his tight ship, the players never slackening, even the dogged soaked crowd in their thick uniforms or with skimpy coats and plastic bags on their heads admirable, somehow. Like the muddy fight in Pintilie’s masterpiece Re-enactment, also witnessed by a football crowd leaving a match, it’s both absurd and desperately serious. About sport, but about people coping with the society they’re in as well. And, almost magically, you care, and the film becomes a moving testimony to survival.
Seen at Transilvania International Film Festival 2014