Corneliu Porumboiu’s most recent work is a ‘documentary-essay’ about – well, the human condition. The director likes to focus on the question of how one can be truly free within rules and norms, but that was not the strong point that made me appreciate this work. Instead, I was fascinated by how well ‘Infinite Football’ captures the manner in which life shapes the ideas we hold and how, with the passing of time, we have the tendency to create our own narratives almost regardless of whether those ideas align or not.
We follow Laurentiu Ginghina, a 50-something administrative clerk whose story starts when he was in his teens and had his fibula broken while playing football. He describes it later not as an act of malice or an error of judgment on the part of the players or himself, but rather a failure of the rules that govern the sport. It is the rules that facilitate, even require, this kind of physicality. A mere year after Laurentiu recovers from his broken fibula, which doesn’t even heal correctly, his weakened shinbone crumbles on a wintery day in a red December, leaving the man to limp six kilometers all the way home.
So what’s up with this adversity? It’s what sets the man on a more existential path, emboldening him to search for purpose. The purpose of his life – a rather mundane one, in spite of the odd experience abroad – was to improve football. His ideas to improve the game start out with a few radical changes, like turning the pitch into an octagonal shape, removing the offside rule and subdividing the two teams by restricting their movement between specific lines. As his ideas percolate and fail to find acceptance, they are tweaked and adapted, to the point of becoming more impractical or even redundant, in what is to be Football 2.0. Or if that doesn’t work, Football 2.1, or 2.9 or…infinite football.
But Porumboiu’s film isn’t really about football. “The ball is free, but we are not” is our protagonist’s mantra, who simply fails to bridge the distance between theory and practice in a strained effort to matter. Doesn’t almost everyone have his one idea they never managed to bring to fruition? That’s what makes the movie truly relatable, especially in that Porumboiu treats Mr. Ginghina with interest and attention. Perhaps this is the best that we can all do, being gentle with each other and our ideas, starting with a certain age where everything tends to become more immutable. The meta-analysis of our being free within norms and rules is a perfunctory one, which works to some degree, but never enthralls by gathering a weight of relevance.
I’m definitely a fan of these Herzog-ian documentaries wherein some boundary-blurring occurs between the real and the surreal. Porumboiu, by inserting himself into the movie, encouraged this experience. It might be too close to the fringes of the absurd for some, but I think it’s a philosophically fueled movie that trims it’s audience based on compassion. And whether they think Messi is better than Ronaldo. 8/10