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Old and new - Part II: The Second Game
© Greg DeCuir Jr.
First Publication: altcine: 1/2/2015
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Something about contemporary Romanian cinema inspires me to pick up my pen (or to be more honest, in this instance, to stroke my keys). In an essay that I wrote about it last year I decried the state of the ‘new’ in this wave and critiqued what I felt to be an inordinate lack of major successes in the darlings of the international festival circuit who were into their second and third feature films. However, I love Eastern European cinema, particularly Balkan cinema, and so I keep watching, waiting, and hoping for something from Romania to score.

Probably the only recent Romanian film that I have been eagerly anticipating is The Second Game (2014) by Corneliu Porumboiu. Many of the other films have felt too formulaic in their arthouse aesthetics, even upon first descriptions. This one felt to be a genuine experiment, a ready-made curiosum, an installation-like video art piece, a worthy successor to my recent viewings of Manly Games (Jan Svankmajer, 1988) and Football (Ana Hušman, 2011) – though both of these brilliant films have a much stronger sense of humor and more of an avant-garde approach. 

The Second Game proved to be shifty prey. You know how those sorts of films are. You miss it at this festival, you miss it at that festival, no chance to see it in a theater. Soon enough it becomes an obscure object of desire. I thought I finally had the film cornered last year at the Viennale, until I found out that the screening would feature German subtitles. I assumed it to be a very talky film, so I backed out (I did the opposite for Adieu au langage, which I guess is fitting in a titular sense). 

Now I have finally seen it. Now I feel the need to give the attention it deserves. In my prior article I sort of dismissed it out of hand. ‘The self-reflexive exercise has ground to a halt with nothing to show except for that which has already been shown.’ (1) Maybe I was wrong. Just because something has already been shown does not necessarily mean that we have all truly seen. This quasi-remake, this effort in domestic ethnography was bound to reveal hidden treasures upon closer inspection, aided by the director and his referee father in voice-over. 

I like the minimalism of the concept and its execution. This is what slow cinema should be – not self-consciously slow. But the game actually plays out fast, as the two off-screen spectators note on numerous occasions, in awe of the technique of their cherished national athletes. I like the utilization of low-fi video, particularly after the director fetishized film so predictably with his prior work Metabolism. I like the detail of how the broadcast director was bound to cut away from conflict on the pitch because in communist times such pettiness could not be allowed to be viewed. What a difference a decade and a regime change makes. I love the closing credits of the television transmission, which appear when there is still around ten minutes left in the contest. It is off-beat, yet the timing seems perfect. We feel the need to know these broadcast auteurs just at that moment the sensation is produced. Not that it adds a level of meaning, but still it reveals. 

I like the way the father’s continuous explication of how to referee a match slowly becomes a treatise on mise-en-scene. Spacing. Diagonal, dimensional movement. Patience. Flow is essential. This is also the basis of the televisual. It goes hand in hand with liveness. The son baits the father even: ‘This match is like one of my films.’ He does not take the hook. Who would want to watch a film like this? The old man stays focused on his own craft, reliving the time when he was an artist instead of an agriculturist, adjudicating his masterpiece on a field that he says looks like desolate farm land. Call this work When Snow Falls on Bucharest, or Politics.
  When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism
  The Second Game
  Corneliu Porumboiu
  Adrian Porumboiu
  The old and the new in Romanian cinema
  Football in Balkan films
  2014: A Balkan cinema year in numbers!
  altcine Explore movies by Country People To read
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