The Second Game

The Second Game ★★½

A movie I love as a concept and not so much as an actual movie. It's admirable in its simplicity: the director and his father give a running commentary over a recording of a 1988 soccer match between Dinamo (the police team) and Steaua (the army team), which the father refereed. The game unfolds in more or less real time—the only noticeable gap comes at halftime, which makes me wonder what Romanian television would've shown during the break in 1988. (A panel of analysts? Commercials for Dallas?)

But if the obvious comparison is to a DVD commentary, The Second Game is like one of those maddening commentaries where the participants didn't do much prep. The narration slowly trails off until much of the second half is silent as a tomb (whatever sound was on the original recording has been muted), and whenever the Porumboius do venture a comment, it's often a repetition or rephrasing of something they've already said—please, guys, tell us again how the match would've been called off if it had started snowing a couple of hours earlier.

To be fair, a lot of this is due to the circumspection of the elder Porumboiu, which illuminates even as it obscures; his regular refrain—"It's in the past, nobody cares about this"—reflects an all-too-common attitude towards historical traumas, here hidden beneath a sporting event, an endless snowfall, and the noise of an old VHS tape. He's more forthcoming with his philosophy of officiating, which entails a fondness for the advantage rule and an aversion to yellow cards. But how much of this did he come by honestly, and how much was in deference to these state institutions dressed up in soccer kit—the sort of small compromises one makes all the time in an authoritarian society (and not just there, either), until you simply stop noticing and it becomes your "own" idea? Despite his son's best efforts to draw him out, he won't say. Is this another coping mechanism? Or is he just as bored by the tape as he claims to be?