Football Utopia might be a better title for Corneliu Porumboiu’s documentary, a slim 70 minute film which explores the consolations of football, philosophy and bureaucracy in equal measures. The same directors’ The Whistlers hits home screens this weekend, but his 2018 film is well-worth reviving as a companion piece; landing somewhere in Chris Marker territory at times, it’s a high-brow piece that rewards a careful watch.
Laurentiu Ginghină is a friend of the film-maker, although his passion for football tests the boundaries of that friendship. Ginghină is obsessed with football, and he’s got a revolutionary idea that might change the game. And we’re not talking about tweaking the offside rule, or spraying lines on the ground; we’re talking about an octagon-shaped pitch for one thing. Yes, you can forget corners, because his pitch has no corners, allowing play to flow more easily, the innovator suggests. Give that this would mean there’s nowhere to cross the ball from, the notion doesn’t work for me, but I can see the logic for trying it. Ginghină also wants to divide the pitch into different areas, have certain players allowed to play in each area, redefine the off-side rule; his enthusiasm is infectious for a while and then, as Porumboiu records, it becomes exhausting.
This face-lift for the beautiful game of soccer is very much at a theoretical stage; we see it spelled out baldly on a white board. But Porumboiu is interested in playing the man as well as the ball, so we get to see the innovator at work, sitting at his desk, filing forms, meeting the public. We get to see where an injury ruled him out of any actual involvement with playing, which begs the question; is Ginghină motivated by a desire to improve the game, or just changing the rules to suit himself? And we see Ginghină at home, and encounter his philosophical dad; there’s no real story here, just an affectionate picture of an eccentric friend of the director.
Is that all there is? Infinite Football aims for something humble, and yet emerges with a larger prize. Ginghină is a man who feels and understands the impact of rules on ordinary people; he seems to adapt, change and relax the understood and accepted ways of doing things, and yet find few takers for his radical notions. When some ask why, he asks ‘why not?’ and no-one listens. His ideas are dismissed; they’re too close to existing training methods, there’s not sufficient reason to overhaul the existing rules, football professionals don’t see the merit.
Ginghină and his director look beyond the way things are, and work towards something better; a football utopia, perhaps, but also a life lived in pursuit of ideals, and change. A small film, perhaps, but one designed to make you think and question the world around you; even if you don’t buy into the heretical notions contained here, there’s something beguiling about this unique vision of liquid football.
From May 8th 2020 on the Anti-Worlds imprint in the UK.
And in the US.