februarie 2014
Festivalul de film Berlin, 2014
As is well known, a soccer game and a film (better said, a motion picture) have in common a standard time frame: both of them last, without extensions, about 90 minutes. Thus, theoretically, from any soccer game reproduced in real time one could make a motion picture. Only, as far as I know, the first cinematographer who actually did this is Corneliu Porumboiu. I'm speaking of the film The Second Game (Al doilea joc), the fourth motion picture created by the Romanian director, presented in the section Forum at the Berlin Film Festival 2014.

The game in question is Dinamo-Steaua, from winter of 1988. Since we're dealing with this period, this means a game between the top two teams from Romanian First Division, each one filled with top-notch players (moreover, one of them had recently won the European Champions Cup) and, equally symbolic, a confrontation between the Army and the Security. (Securitate).

In this case, this means a terrain covered with snow and a snowstorm that continued uninterrupted during the match as well as the first important game for the referee from Vaslui, Adrian Porumboiu.

The cinematographer Corneliu Porumboiu, the son of the referee, proposes that we see again the match, as it was transmitted by Romanian Television and recorded on a videocassette. But the sound of the game and the remarks of the commentator are cut, leaving only a hum, slow and permanent, over which is added the dialogue between father and son. This constitutes, to use Ion Barbu's expression, "a second, purer game". The real game, concluded with a draw white as snow, isn't an extraordinary spectacle, particularly given the weather conditions of the match. For today's spectators (even Romanians, not to mention foreigners) it doesn't seem all that interesting, as Adrian Porumboiu admits himself. What interests us, however, is this "second game," which justifies both the creation of the film and its presentation at the film festival.

Along with the aforementioned dialogue, at the beginning Corneliu Porumboiu also introduces a contextualizing explanation: at the age of 7 or 8 (with 5 to 6 years before the game in question), a stranger told him, on the phone, to tell his father to give up on being a referee, if he doesn't want to die. The son transmitted the message and the father continued to be a referee. This scene also justifies a later exchange, in which the cinematographer, convinced that the match "resembles one of my films" during which "nothing happens," expresses his intention to make it into a film, in which the referee will be the main character. And at the end of the game / videocassette, when the generic TVR starts airing, the director introduces a musical piece by Max Richter called "Winter 1", which is in fact a "recomposition" (or another "second game") of a piece by Antonio Vivaldi. We encounter, during the dialogue, several other meta-cinematographic or auto-referential commentaries.

For instance, Corneliu Porumboiu states that he likes snow because it has "a kind of poetry" and even if his father cuts him short ("He's antsy"), the words of the cinematographer reminds us of his film 12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?).

Before establishing if The Second Game (Al doilea joc) is or is not a good film, we have to decide if it's a film. Or, better said, we have to return to the eternal Bazinian question: What is cinema? And I believe that each of us should answer this question on our own.

Two documentaries about Romania are presented also in the section Forum. The first is Le beau danger (Germany) by René Frölke a experimental film dedicated to the Romanian writer Norman Manea. On the screen appear fragments of two of the writer's texts (the short story We could have been four (Puteam fi patru) and the novel The black envelope (Plicul negru)), alternating with representative scenes of Norman Manea, in black and white and color: the author at his desk, giving interviews, at book festivals, at meetings with readers or at an award ceremony where he receives the title Doctor Honoris Causa. From a Romanian cemetery in Bucovina to today's Bucharest, the author's works and life continue to be discussed, as are the works of Benjamin Fondane or Drieu la Rochelle.

René Frölke plays around a lot with the sound, superposing collages with noise from nature over images from an event, or gradually increasing and decreasing the volume (the replies are sometimes subtitled). We're not offered explanations, only slices of life. An amusing moment occurs when Norman Manea chats with the director who follows him with the camera. And the key image is that of a snail saved and brought to shelter by the writer: a snail that emerges from its shell and extends its antennas towards freedom. Given the narrative and fragmentary nature of this portrait, which proposes to find a channel of communication between the cinematographer and literature, I believe that the subject (the life and work of Norman Manea) is far from exhausted.

Finally, The forest is like the mountain, see? (Pădurea e ca muntele, vezi?) (Romania-Germany), by Christiane Schmidt (a graduate of the School of Film and Television of München) and Didier Guillain, is a film with a more familiar structure: a documentary filmed in an observational style, during several seasons, in the Vilcele community, located on a hilly forest, surrounded by mountains, close to the town Sfântu Gheorghe. The inhabitants are Gypsies, most of them Adventist. They try to survive by stealing logs and selling them, farming or eating what they can find in the forest.

The directors try not to intervene in what they observe and record through the medium of the camera. On the other hand, the editing is not chronological and, at the beginning, we're shown, side by side, for dynamism, several actions. Moreover, sometimes the subjects in front of the camera talk to the directors and are always aware of their presence. Nevertheless, the sense of intimacy created by the film is remarkable: characters telling their stories and confessing to them (and to us). The film, with its amusing (and emotional) moments, becomes in this way a testimony of a community in which, despite the omnipresent poverty and the inevitable rivalries, people love and take care of one another, have faith in God and try to do good. The title is derived from a comment by a child who, regretting that he's never climbed the mountain, observes when looking at the horizon that the forest and the mountain meet, resembling two twin sisters.

(the Romanian version was published in Observator Cultural, February 2014)

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