Infinite Football / Corneliu Porumboiu / 2018 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Droll humor; Subtle thematic resonance
Side Effects: Slow pace; Visual flatness

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[Infinite Football plays throughout March at Boston’s MFA.]

Corneliu Porumboiu’s Infinite Football is a curious little documentary character study about a curious man. Like its subject Laurențiu Ginghină, the film is unassuming, earnest, and even-keeled. Ginghină is a mild-mannered bureaucrat by day, but his real passion is to reinvent soccer, to “revolutionize sports” as he puts it, drawing a connection between himself and Clark Kent’s considerably grander calling as Superman. Porumboiu follows Ginghină over the course of a droll, unhurried 70 minutes listening quizzically and unconvinced as he attempts to explain the motivations behind his rule changes and vision for a slower version of the beautiful game.

For Ginghină, it all started with the leg injuries he suffered both as a soccer player and later a factory worker in Communist Romania. The idea grew and clarified in his head after he failed to secure a work visa to move to the U.S. and suddenly found himself working a boring desk job for the next 20 years. Essentially, Ginghină has imagined a version of soccer with a rounded field, players divided into sub-teams and sub-sub-teams, and six sections of the field that players can’t pass. These restrictions, he argues, will slow the players down while allowing the ball to move freely.

Porumboiu, seen on-screen with Ginghină at his home and office, is patient and probing with his subject, interested in his strange obsession with transferring movement from the players to the soccer ball. Ginghină is quixotically seeking a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, the film argues, to justify the events of his own life. So his leg injury accounts for the restricted mobility of his game’s players. The barriers of his inescapable desk job translate to the needlessly complicated subdivisions of his game’s field.

Slowly and subtly, Infinite Football becomes something more than a character study. The film uses Ginghină and his new version of a soccer to analyze all obsessions—like the director’s obsession with books or Ginghină’s father’s obsession with photographs. Ginghină shows remarkable clarity and insight as he analyzes his own goals, and here again the film is like its subject. Infinite Football, with wisdom and humor, becomes an unassuming meditation on how the shortcomings and disappointments of our lives shape the meaning we make of it. We all have our own version of infinite football—what’s yours?

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