' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...The Second Game

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Some Drivel On...The Second Game

Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Second Game” (2014) is less a documentary, really, than something like a running commentary between the director and his father Adrian of a 1988 Romanian soccer game between Steaua and Dinamo in the snow that Adrian refereed. If it was less than thrilling to me, a person who frequently enjoys watching old sports events on YouTube, imagine how it might play to you, person who does not enjoy watching old sports events on YouTube. As the title kind of alludes to, however, the game, the score, the action, is never really the point. In comparing it to one of his own deadpan Romanian New Wave movies, “slow and nothing much is happening” goes his description, well, he’s sort of cheekily selling his own movies short. Because something is going on just below the surface, as it is in “The Second Game” which evokes how the ultimate pointlessness of sports, to paraphrase a Colin McGowan article from the long-ago scrubbed site Sports on Earth, frees us to make anything out of them we want. “The Second Game,” then, belongs less in a movie theater than a museum; above all else, it invites contemplation. 

Steaua, as we learn, was managed by the Romanian Army while Dinamo was overseen by the Internal Affairs Ministry, essentially a team as an extension of the secret police, brewing political warfare on the pitch. Though Adrian speaks of each squad seeking to bribe him beforehand for preferential treatment, he shrugs that off in 2014 as much as he apparently did in 1988, making it clear he could not be bought, that’s that, hinting at the hard line that helped render the fall of the Iron Curtain. “If this was made in 1989,” Adrian drolly observes, “you could say that it predicted the end of communism.” It’s the funniest line in the movie, reminding me of Dave Barry’s old comical observation that Moby-Dick represents the Republic of Ireland, meaning anything can be philosophically or politically retrofit if you stretch it hard enough, while also putting into perspective how much of the Corneliu and Adrian’s commentary sounds exactly as it is, a dyspeptic father waving away his son’s questions before the questions are even done being asked. True, Adrian gets a little bit into officiating methods and the run of play, but mostly he expresses apathetic bewilderment about why they are watching this game in the first place, essentially citing it as one match in the snow out of hundreds, expressing the notion of a sportsball event as just one more thing to consume. In this way, the looming Romanian revolution retroactively strains out all the tension and turmoil, rendering the game as merely absurd and pointless, the dodgy visuals seeming to suggest it might be vanishing from existence right before our very eyes. 

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