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The Second Game (#110 of 2)

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, & More

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

Film Society of Lincoln Center

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

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.