‘Infinite Football’ Review: Soccer and Other Existential Questions

Posted November 8, 2018 5:27 p.m. EST

The surfaces of this documentary are, as is customary for its director, Corneliu Porumboiu of Romania, unprepossessing to an extreme.

If you’re familiar with his work (“Police, Adjective”; “The Treasure”), you may recognize Porumboiu as one of the two men chatting in the movie’s opening scenes. These take place by a soccer field, inside a now out-of-use milling facility, where Porumboiu and the man doing most of the talking, Laurentiu Ginghina, stand before a white board. The lighting is minimal, the conversation at ordinary pitch and volume, and the cinematic rhythm attentive but unhurried.

Ginghina speaks of injuring his leg during a soccer match many years earlier, and how after several procedures, he realized he would never play the game he loved at the level to which he had aspired. His accident, he says, was the result of “imposed rules, rules that weren’t the best.” Then, using the white board, he lays out an improved version of soccer (or football, as the rest of the world knows it). In his vision, the field has no corners and the teams work in subdivisions.

Following a scene in which Ginghina, at his office, offers not much help to a woman lodging a land-use complaint (the movie withholds the details of his bureaucratic job), he takes up the sports discussion again with Porumboiu at a gym, where a group of men rehearse some of Ginghina’s ideas, then at an apartment Ginghina shares with his father. There, Ginghina is compelled to wrestle with the viability of his ideas.

Porumboiu (who in 2014 made the documentary “The Second Game,” about a soccer match refereed by his father) implies that Ginghina’s proposals would make the game something other than soccer. “Football 2.0,” Ginghina says. He reels off more versions in sequence, and Porumboiu interjects, “infinite football.”

Robert Coover’s 1968 novel “The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.” depicted the world of a man who conducted an imaginary professional baseball season entirely through rolls of dice. Its thematic argument was that the only life is the life of the mind. “Infinite Football” has similar concerns but somewhat more of a metaphysical bent.

While the movie has allegorical resonances with the political and human rights disasters of 20th-century Romania, by the end, its surfaces, while remaining superficially unimpressive, open up as the film moves from epistemological speculation onto a plane of mysticism. This relatively short film contains worlds.

“Infinite Football”

Not rated. In Romanian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.