Second Game, The (2014)

Football as cinema, if only barely, as the director and his father talk about the latter’s refereeing of the game, and by extension, Romania’s late ‘80s political history in this uneventful and uncompelling documentary.    

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #2,196

Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu
2014 | Romania | Documentary/Sport/History | 97 mins | 1.33:1 | Romanian
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Plot: Filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu discusses a snowy soccer match from 1988 with his father, who was the head referee for the game.
Awards: Official Selection (Berlinale)
Source: Siehe Produktion

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Football, Communism

Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

I wished Corneliu Porumboiu would have taken The Second Game further as a concept. 

One of the star directors of the Romanian New Wave alongside the likes of Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu, Porumboiu is no stranger to experimenting with form and flirting with the possibilities of cinema, but here in this uneventful and uncompelling documentary, he seems too laidback and perhaps too confident that whatever he does—or not do—in the film would translate organically into cinema. 

The Second Game is stripped to its barest possible—Porumboiu and his father chat over a football match pitting the country’s two top teams from more than two decades ago. 

We don’t see father and son; instead, we hear their voices and are made to watch the full 90 minutes (also conveniently the runtime of the film) of the game, and in a quality no better than a fuzzy VHS tape.  This is football as cinema, if only barely. 

“It’s the communists versus the communists.”

Porumboiu asks the questions, but he seems more interested in just watching the game.  His father, the referee of that match, doesn’t seem like an engaging person to listen to, with many of his responses feeling way too cursory. 

Having said that, at least in the first half of the match, some interesting insights into Romania just before the ’89 Romanian Revolution are shared, including how politics and sport are both sides of the same coin. 

As I said earlier, I wished Porumboiu would have dug deeper and engage his father more emotionally on how it was like living in a time when communism’s appeal was waning.  Football is culture; culture is cinema; cinema is politics—but in The Second Game, neither is either.

Grade: C

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