Berlin Patrick Gamble

Berlin 2018: Infinite Football review

★★★★☆

A Romanian pen pusher’s attempts to revolutionise the beautiful game goes far beyond inverting the pyramid in Corneliu Porumboiu’s hilarious Infinite Football, a semi-follow-up to The Second Game which received its world premiere at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

The introduction of rules to the game of football gave it a shared language and helped turn it into a spectator sport – but as the old adage goes, all rules are made to be broken. Infinite Football sees Porumboiu return to his hometown of Vaslui, where many of his films are set, to interview Laurențiu Ginghină, an office worker and childhood friend of his brother who, after a traumatic footballing injury, decided to create a new set of rules that would improve the game.

Ginghină has invented an elaborate alternative to the conventional 11-a-side game, stripping the squad down to seven; a goalkeeper and two sub-teams of three, one focusing on defence the other on attack. He even proposes placing a wall on the half way line and, in an attempt to speed up the game, has removed the corners of the pitch, preferring a more fluid octagon design. Porumboiu listens intently, as Ginghină explains the philosophy behind his game (based mainly on Chinese and Japanese teachings), but as the film progresses and more rules are added it becomes clear this revolutionary will never be content.

Porumboiu has been casting his comedic eye on the legacy of the Ceaușescu regime ever since his breakthrough debut 12:08 East of Bucharest, and the same deadpan satire is very much present here. Ginghină makes for a wonderfully eccentric subject, and the ardour with which he elucidates the intricacies of his project to Porumboiu is both hilarious and tragic. He suffered his injury during the Ceaușescu era, and his desire to give more freedom to the ball could be seen as an attempt to fix the shortcomings of the socialist utopia. However, 27 years on, he’s still trying to perfect his game, unable to find the right balance between freedom and order in a free market economy.

Porumboiu proved in his previous football documentary, The Second Game, that he’s skilled in getting those closest to him to say more than they thought they would – or could. He also understands that the love for football isn’t in the universality of what happens on the pitch, but its intersection with the social and political aspects of our lives. In The Second Game, he used a VHS copy of a 1980s match, refereed by his father as a way to explore the institutional corruption of the era.

Meanwhile, the ill-tempered interactions between father and son highlighted the disparity between those who matured before and after the revolution. Here, his candour offers an otherwise flat and visually uninspiring film a much-needed lift, giving Ginghină idealist vision of a sporting utopia the respect it deserves. Once again taking football and seeing if, once drained of its fervent passion and tribalism, it can be made to illicit accidental truths about society, Porumboiu proves that even a game of two halves can have multiple dimensions.

Readers based in Germany can watch Infinite Football and other selected films online at festivalscope.comThe Berlin Film Festival runs from 15-25 February. Follow our coverage here.

Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble