4 Romanian films after ’89

Al doilea joc (The Second Game, Corneliu Porumboiu, 2014). As its countless layers masterfully pile up, I find myself most intimidated by its quest for intimacy and the way in which it strips bare merely through sound a a father-son relationship. The first’s attempt to find out the truth and the second’s elusiveness in permitting it, while the beauty of the old video images of a football game covered in snow is mesmerizing and  past and present collide in the most simple, innovative, brilliant of ways.

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Ionaș visează că plouă (Ionaș Dreams of Rain, Dragoș Hanciu, 2017), which osccilates between documentary and fiction, reality and dream.

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Aurora (Cristi Puiu, 2010), a film utterly concerned with offscreen space, deathly sins, and, as its maker claims, with Rohmer

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Tara moarta (The Dead Nation, Radu Jude, 2017), a film that takes place in its omissions and gaps

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Some films from the 2018 Berlinale

Infinite Footbal by Corneliu Porumboiu

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Seeing that it is a film by Porumboiu, it should have been clear to me from the start that this film was not going to be about football. As with all great films, when the ending credits start rolling, you can’t help but feel that what you’ve just seen was about everything, that it covered an enormous portion of what there is to show about both cinema and mankind. What starts as a documentary about an amateur football strategist that actually works as a state employee multiplies its layers so gently and masterfully (such a mastering of the craft of cinema and such a distinct vision on world and how film can approach it are very rarely seen, Porumboiu is a very special case) that the viewer can only at the end grasp how much he or she has been confronted with. Among many other things, this is a film about how a man, the already mentioned amateur football strategist, chooses to present himself to the camera, carefully choosing his words and behavior.  The film plays with his desire to present himself, at times supporting him, at times unmasking him. As he elaborately recounts the numerous accidents he has suffered while playing football over several shots, framing, editing and camera movement all refrains from showing him move, letting the uncertainty as to weather or not he remained slightly crippled by the accidents set in. Past and present collide in a single shot by the apparently easiest of means, yet one that seems to require exquisite skill, since it is rarely accomplished: the protagonist revisits the place where he used to play football in his youth, the recounting of events from that era accompanied by the images of that space now (the camera does not wander through that space randomly though, it sticks to its protagonist) making the past acute, while managing not to destabilize in a negative way the film’s grounding in the present. Furthermore, Fotbal Infinit lets one wonder about the relationship between the filmmaker and the protagonist, which remains ambiguous until quite late, letting the viewer ask himself if Porumboiu has this slightly aggressive (not exactly well put here) way of dealing with his subjects every time or if this is a special case. Maybe (the masterpiece) The Second Game gave some insight into that, but this is the first time we see Porumboiu onscreen in his films. We ultimately find out that they have known each other since they were children, though Porumboiu’s opinion about his protagonist remains delightfully ambiguous. Ultimately, what appeared to be a simple case study turns into a meditation on society and power. As the amateur football strategist develops new rules for the game which would severely limit the players’ freedom of movement, alarming questions regarding the freedom of the individual and some people’s need to restrain it arise. As the ‘strategist’ explains that the new rules would increase the speed of movement of the ball, Porumboiu states that football is about the humans playing it and not about the object, the ball. It is a tremendously important statement and it is, of course, not only about football.We knew after watching The Second Game that Porumboiu has reached terribly delicate cinematic territory. Infinite Football is further proof of that.

Inland Sea by Kazuhiro Soda

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A b/w documentary on a fishing village in Japan and its inhabitants. Cats linger on the forsaken streets, the inhabitants, all apparently over 70, go on with their daily lives. An old, crooked fisherman carries on with his fishing, an old nearly crazy woman guides us through the streets and allows us to wait with her for the old man that rides a bicycle to the seaside with his dog each day. She wants to give him some fish, he doesn’t show up. Excellent in matters of capturing local atmosphere, wisely sticking to the characters, even when they ask for the camera to be pointed at local ‘famous’ spots, the director of Inland Sea makes exquisite decisions regarding what to point the camera at and when to move it, revealing an incredibly quick instinct for and understanding of how the filmed will look on the screen and what is relevant to its purpose.

Classical Period by Ted Fendt

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An American film in which intellectualism is not merely the prestige accessory of a cheap love story but the focus itself. Intellectualism not treated superficially, cinema treated just as cleverly.

Other notable premieres:

Grass by Hong Sangsoo

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Victory Day by Sergei Loznitsa

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Season of the Devil by Lav Diaz

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