Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Art of the Real ’14: The Second Game

It was sort of like the Romanian equivalent of the Army-Navy Game, but with bizarrely ominous implications. Dinamo was affiliated with the secret police, while Steaua was the Army team, handpicked by Ceausescu’s son. Corneliu Porumboiu’s father refereed a moderately memorable meeting of the two football (soccer) teams. He will revisit the videotapes of that snowy 1988 match with his filmmaker son throughout the low-fi un-doc-like The Second Game (trailer here), which screens during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real film series.

Adrian Porumboiu was clearly the sort of ref who believed in putting the whistle in his pocket during pivotal moments of a game. Of course, it made a lot of sense to just let teams like Steaua and Dinamo settle it on the field, rather than risk deciding matters himself. Many aspects of the game have changed since 1988, including an EU mandate requiring the privatization of government agency affiliated teams. The fact that this match-up takes place a year before the fall of Ceausescu would seem to be highly symbolic, but neither Porumboiu overplays that card.

Instead, we hear far more regarding the senior Porumboiu’s thoughts on how to properly officiate a game, which is sort of interesting, for a while. Still, the less than pristine archival footage occasionally opens up a small window into the mechanisms of the Communist police state. Given the teams’ social-political significance, the cameramen never show the fighting or bouts of poor sportsmanship that periodically erupted on field, panning the crowd instead. Of course, this would leave home viewers inevitably confused when televised coverage finally resumed.

It seems like there ought to be more there there to Second Game than there really is. While the circumstances surrounding the match are fascinating on paper, viewers are really just watching a twenty six year old football match with occasional bits of color commentary. Frankly, the Porumboius do not pace themselves well, or even bother to turn off their cell phones.

If you cover film, Second Game offers a handy opportunity to examine how the totalitarian Socialist state manipulated mass media. If you actually want to immerse yourself in a cinematic experience, Porumboiu’s latest is a tough go. Of more interest to film students analyzing Porumboiu’s life and work (such as the deliberately paced but more rewarding Police, Adjective and 12:08 East of Bucharest) than those intrigued by the Cold War era, Second Game is odd programming choice for Art of the Real. For those determined to partake, it screens this Friday (4/11) and the following Monday (4/14) at the Francesca Beale Theater.