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Corneliu Porumboiu (#110 of 4)

IndieLisboa 2014 Industrial Revolution, Same River Twice, The Second Game, and Iranien

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IndieLisboa 2014: Industrial Revolution, Same River Twice, The Second Game, and Iranien
IndieLisboa 2014: Industrial Revolution, Same River Twice, The Second Game, and Iranien

On the festival circuit at least, every calendar year starts with a bang. First Rotterdam, then Berlin—two gargantuan magnets dwarfing all around them. Flabby ships the pair of them, one might say—their programs developing each year by way of a bigger-not-better approach. How nice it is, then, to find oneself, in the weeks prior to Cannes especially, at a festival that appears to have actually rejected films in order to arrive at its lineup. Taking place once again toward the back end of April, and running into May, IndieLisboa—Lisbon’s international festival of independent cinema—showcases some of the better independent productions unveiled in Rotterdam, Berlin, and elsewhere while pruning out much of the filler.

It’s all about timing. And also maybe money. In Miguel Valverde and Nuno Sena, IndieLisboa has two expert co-directors whose curatorial acumen has allowed the festival to negotiate the unpredictable tides of a fiscally fraught Europe. For the 11th edition, Valverde and Sena’s tellingly small programming team once again delivered a lineup whose emphasis was on quality control and individuality. In addition to its international competition (won by Sundance-winner To Kill a Man), IndieLisboa features several other programming strands as well as a comprehensive, high-quality shorts program. After two years in the financial wilderness, the festival’s “Independent Hero” retrospective also returned, dedicated this time around to Claire Simon. It’s a shame a festival so dedicated to traditional ideas of cinephilia doesn’t in its current situation attract more international press; this critic was one of only four attending from outside of Portugal.

Art of the Real 2014: The Second Game, La Última Película, Castanha, & Bloody Beans

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Art of the Real 2014: <em>The Second Game</em>, <em>La Última Película</em>, <em>Castanha</em>, & <em>Bloody Beans</em>
Art of the Real 2014: <em>The Second Game</em>, <em>La Última Película</em>, <em>Castanha</em>, & <em>Bloody Beans</em>

In The Second Game, filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu and his father sit down to watch an old analog tape of a soccer match that the father refereed in 1988, one year before the toppling of Nicolae Ceaușescu. We stare with them at the fuzzy television screen for 76 minutes, the duration of the match on which they comment. The documentary, part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Art of the Real” series, is an autobiographical meditation on memory, but also an off-handed treatment on the nature of film. At one point, Porumboiu’s father remarks that the match is like a film (Porumboiu’s, or perhaps films in general): “You watch and nothing happens.” But, of course, in this sly, multilayered haunting of the past, very much happens when nothing does.

Firstly, there’s the grim fascination of watching a match without sound; it becomes a silent ballet of players indistinguishable to most viewers, a reminder that soccer, like history, creates very localized allegiances. On the field, the visibility is awful as snow trickles down, yet devout fans fill the stands, partly because this is no ordinary game: The two minor-league teams are backed by dueling factions, the communist military police and the army, a tag of war in which Porumboiu’s father, who refused to let either team buy the results, stands as a cautious, politic mediator. Offering a soccer match as a metaphor for a fallen system that transformed sports into nationalistic pageantry of pride and honor, while secretly rigging games—and, politics—behind its citizens’ backs, The Second Game turns an ordinary, nostalgic gesture into a self-reflexive time capsule.

Locarno Film Festival 2013 2 Guns, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, Exhibition, & Sense of Humor

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Locarno Film Festival 2013: 2 Guns, Chinatown, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, Exhibition, The Mute, The Dirties, & Sense of Humor
Locarno Film Festival 2013: 2 Guns, Chinatown, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, Exhibition, The Mute, The Dirties, & Sense of Humor

Receiving its first public screening outside the U.S. at the 66th Locarno Film Festival, Baltasar Kormákur’s 2 Guns capped the open-air opening ceremony with thunder roaring overhead. Summarising its director’s career arc thus far (his debut feature 101 Reykjavik premiered here in 2000), this heady Hollywood buddy movie also demonstrated the festival’s varied appeal. Diversity might be what every major festival aspires to, of course, but in Locarno this seems especially the case, offering as it does everything from the vertiginously tiered 270-seat PalaVideo theater to the even-surfaced 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, the open-air setup that takes over the city center for the duration of the festival.

While 2 Guns eventually fell victim to a vicious downpour, a pre-festival screening of Chinatown the previous evening had confirmed to this first-time attendee that size does indeed matter. Already familiar with Roman Polanski’s neo-noir, I settled into travel-weary autopilot and sat there bedazzled by the film’s imagery, which seemingly attained a renewed power as it played on Europe’s biggest cinema screen. It was also the first time I had seen the film with an audience. The audible gasps at the “kitty cat” scene resonated throughout the square, and the collective mumble that greeted Faye Dunaway’s “My sister! My daughter!” meltdown eerily prefigured the thunderstorm that marred the official ceremony the subsequent evening.

New York Film Festival 2009: Police, Adjective

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New York Film Festival 2009: <em>Police, Adjective</em>
New York Film Festival 2009: <em>Police, Adjective</em>

I can forgive Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective for its didacticism because it feels well-earned. Beginning as the Romanian answer to 24—a police procedural presented in “real-time,” for the most part through long takes and even longer scenes—Porumboiu’s film is very much an argument, but it’s not, as one character suggests, a dialectical one. That would require a sustained, coherent position to counter the film’s prevailing utilitarian statement, which is revealed in a protracted climax involving a sneering superior and a Romanian dictionary. (Resolved: When a judgment of one’s own conscience comes into conflict with a judgment that maintains the status quo, the status quo wins.) It sounds as much fun as being hit continuously upside the head for 115 minutes by a rolled-up newspaper and then, to help you understand what it’s all for, being whacked in the face several times by a rock-hard icepack.