June 2014

"Al doilea joc - The Second Game"

by Corneliu Porumboiu; opens December 14, 2014

Stills from The Second Game

A deceptively simple set-up: the director and his father watch a 1988 football match which the father refereed, their commentary accompanying the original television images in real time. A Bucharest derby between the country’s leading teams, Dinamo and Steaua, taking place in heavy snow, one year before the revolution that toppled Ceaușescu. The conditions are difficult at best, the play hardly sparkling. One match among many, the standard game of two halves, yellow intertitles marking time and grainy video images which merge with the snow: the perfectly unspectacular basis for a foray into the conditional. What if the ball hadn’t hit the crossbar? What if the referee had bowed to pressure and favoured one team? What if the camera had actually shown the brief ruckus on the pitch? What if the match had taken place one year later? What if snow had stopped the game from taking place at all? An endless chain of imaginary second games spiralling off from the first, each with different images, different scorelines, different allegiances, and different significances. If you were to ask which football game says the most about everything, I would tell you it is the one which is most banal. (James Lattimer, Forum catalogue)

At the Transilvania International Film Festival in Cluj, "The Second Game" received the Romanian Days Award for Best Film.

Adrian Porumboiu was born in Buzau, Romania in 1950. As a footballer, he played for the Romanian junior and youth teams Metalul Buzau (1964-65), FC Argeş Piteşti (1965-68), then for Laminorul Braila (1969-70), Gloria Barlad and Gloria Slatina (1970-71), Chimia Ramnicu Valcea (1971-72), and for the Viitorul Vaslui first team (1972-79). After finishing his playing ca- reer he became a referee. He first officiated matches in the C league, from 1980, before moving to the B league in 1982 and finally the A league, where he refereed games from 1984. He retired in 1997, later working as a referee observer for FIFA until 2006. In 1998, he was director of the Romanian Football Federation Discipline and Referee Assessment Commission. From 2006 to 2012, Adrian Porumboiu was manager of FC Vaslui.

Corneliu Porumboiu was born in 1975 in Vaslui, Romania. After studying management, he studied film directing at the I. L. Caragiale National University of Theatre and Film in Bucharest from 1999 to 2003. He made his first short film, Graffiti, in 2000, and in 2006, he made his first feature-length film, 12:08 East of Bucharest.

Interview with the director

"Al doilea joc" is your first non-fiction film, and more than this, it is self-referential and very personal; a sort of atypical home movie. How did you start to get interested in this type of cinema?
I started backwards. A year or two ago, on a show called Replay, aired by Romanian Public Television, I saw again a few minutes from a football match refereed by my father [former match official Adrian Porumboiu] in 1988. After a phone threat I had received when I was a child, I learned the rules of the game to overcome my fear. I used to watch matches with my brother Octavian and my mother, and they would keep asking me, 'Was it offside? Was it a foul? Was he right to give the yellow card?' I had become a referee sitting in front of the TV set. But I hadn’t understood an- ything watching this game because it was snowing and I could hardly see the ball. Watching it again after all these years I had a strange feeling, one that was difficult to define. Several months later I ran into Marian Olaianos, the producer of the show Replay, and I asked him for the recording of the game. I wanted to see it again with my father to clarify certain things. I was also thinking that this discus- sion could serve as research for a potential film. I had been wanting to make movies that take on the subject of football because I grew up in this world and I played football as a teenager. Besides the images from the TV show, which reminded me of this match, there were other images that influenced me: two scenes from The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the film by Andrei Ujică. The scenes take place in winter, at the end of the 1980s. One of them shows an empty store, the other is a traveling shot with people saluting Ceaușescu, taken from a sort of personal, subjective perspective. While until then I had watched the film with detachment, these scenes were a powerful emotional blow for me and this is because in the meantime I had come to associate my childhood with a winter shot on VHS.

You never thought about making a journal film, in which you would be talking about your family and yourself?
I wanted to watch this film again to clarify something. It is hard for me to say what exactly. I wanted to see this match again because, in a strange way, I have come to associate this game with the threat I had received a few years before it took place. This threat stuck in my memory as did the voice of the man on the phone. It infiltrated my films: it inspired the Securitate officer who rings in to the live show in "12:08 East of Bucharest" (2006), and it also influenced me in "Police, Adjective"(2009), in the way I constructed Anghelache, the head of the police. He uses pseudo-logic and has an absurd way of dealing with things and asking questions. But outside of these clarifications, which are significant to me, I never planned to enter the journal film domain. Besides, I didn’t open any gates to some sort of family confession. Initially I had instead wanted to take a political approach and "Al doilea joc" has this, albeit not explicitly. While before 1989 we could have talked about censorship, because the camera was positioned in such a way at matches as to rarely catch a close-up of the players, and the conflicts between them were never shown, today there is a restrictive, albeit different way of broadcasting football games. The perspective the camera has now at matches is so precise, in the US tradition of extorting emotions by showing close-ups and re-runs, that the experience of watching the film in front of the TV has almost nothing to do with experiencing it live, at the stadium. Seeing again the match that my father refereed, I asked myself if this way of shooting with which I grew up isn’t the one that indirectly shaped the way I relate to cinema. With my films I try to establish things, to ask questions, to recall certain events. Our society still has a black-and-white relationship with the past, a certain type of simplistic vision of history. I think this is one of the reasons I’m in cinema: to question this mentality.

The film’s commentary is made up of several takes, or is it, from beginning to end, a recording of one conversation between you and your father?
I watched the recording of the match at home, in Vaslui, on a basic DVD player, which didn’t have a pause button. We started to watch the match and talk about it, but, after we’d been recording for a while, the DVD froze. We then had to watch it again and we started the discussion from scratch. This time I realised after twenty minutes that my tape recorder wasn’t working. I met my father again the next day to start the recording over and again we had problems, this time after the sixtieth minute, so we had to start watching the match for the fourth time, from the beginning, in order to finish the viewing and the recording of the discussion. So, up until the sixtieth minute we had three takes of the conversation and from the sixtieth minute on, only one. The first recording with my father had become a sort of TV discourse, adopting a somewhat neutral attitude. His answers were detached, as he is a person used to interviews and cameras. So, in the end, it was good the conversation was interrupted several times because I think this made him drop his mechanical way of relating to the game. In the second part of the discussion, the questions are fewer and the dialogue sparser because we enter the game too. And although the recording misses certain things I would have liked it to have in, I thought the combination of the images and our conversation works as a documentation of the meeting between me and my father, that it is useless to try to artificially attach other meanings to it. Had I added inserts to explain certain information in the discussion that might be confusing to viewers unfamiliar with the trajectory of his career, or had I re-taped the parts of the discussion that were lost, I would have risked losing the freshness of the moment between us. I would have ended up with a different film, a different type of emotion, or even no emotion.

In the film, your father says that the match you were discussing was the third or fourth that had taken place between the two teams and for which he was the referee. So, how come the title of the film, "Al doilea joc", the second game?
My father has set as his ringtone Shostakovich’s Second Waltz. At first I thought a potential title would be 'The Second Waltz', because from a certain point onwards the game becomes absurd, a sort of macabre dance. I found "Al doilea joc" more appropriate though: it was the second time I had watched the recording of the match and it was turning into something else.

What does your father think of the film?
My father hasn’t seen it yet but he knows it is not a serious film. He teases me all the time with the question: 'When will you make a serious film, an important film, with emotion?'

"Al doilea joc - The Second Game"

Romania 2014. Production company: 42 km Film, Bucharest (Romania). Director: Corneliu Porumboiu. Sound: Dana Bunescu. Composer: Max Richter. Sound design: Sebastian Zsemlye. Producer: Marcela Ursu. With: Adrian Porumboiu, Corneliu Porumboiu. Format: DCP, colour. Running time: 97 min. Language: Roma- nian. World premiere: 11 February 2014, Berlinale Forum.