Monday, June 15, 2015

The Second Game

Calling The Second Game a glorified DVD commentary track seems unfair. After all, who would bother to put this muddy video of a 1988 Romanian soccer match on DVD? As per every snide joke ever aimed at professional soccer, the game even ends in a riveting 0-0 tie. And while there is some ancillary entertainment value in following the players as they slip and slide their way through a snowstorm, nothing on the field can match the subtle battle of wills occurring in the conversation between director Corneliu Porumboiu and his father Adrian, the referee of the game on display. True, the pair’s debate over Romanian history and the art of soccer periodically rambles off into dead ends or dull tangents, and one has to wonder whether Corneliu even planned to release this audio when he first recorded it (the occasional ding of a cellphone notification suggests the conversation was taped under rather relaxed conditions). But the game—featuring a team associated with the army and another with the police—is also rife with the everyday absurdities of life during the twilight of the Ceausescu dictatorship, such as when the camera pans across the audience to avoid showing an on-field argument. Good communists, we’re told, are expected to play nice.

Adrian’s initial response to his son’s questioning over every detail of the match is bemused. He can’t quite understand why anyone should be concerned with a 25-year-old soccer match. The game exists to entertain in the moment. Once over, who cares? The man seems blasé about his precarious position—an opening title card reveals that a young Corneliu even received an anonymous threat against his father—balancing the egos between the rival instruments of state oppression, police and army. There is a generational divide opening up in these responses to the pained history of the Ceausescu years, with the younger generation pushing for more answers than their elders care to give. But as the film progresses, the lulls in conversation stretch out like taffy as both father and son become increasingly absorbed by the game. The father is pulled back into the match, critiquing his calls and gruffly admitting that he is enjoying the spirited play between the two teams. Still, he denies the past, and for good reason. Those long-gone days remain too painfully vivid to be embalmed in history just yet.

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