Down, But Not Out

Daria gets some instructions from Przemek.

Daria gets some instructions from Przemek.

(2015) Sports Documentary (Green Box) Alicja Cichewicz, Anna Pazdur-Czarnowska, Przemyslaw “Przemek” Rydynski, Daria Strzepka, Agnieszka Szmerek. Directed by Miguel Gaudéncio

Some call boxing the “sweet science” for reasons I can’t fathom. Any aficionado of the sport will tell you that it isn’t just two lugs throwing punches at one another; boxing requires skill, strategy and the ability to literally think on your feet.

A quartet of Polish women are going to an amateur boxing tournament in Poznan to box in their first matches. They are Alicja, Anna, Daria and Agnieszka – which sounds a bit like a Swedish pop group – and they are accompanied by their coach Przemek. He acts as their mentor, confidante, cheerleader and comforter. As the matches continue, the girls learn that sparring is a lot different than boxing, that heart and courage can take time to accumulate and that the sport is so much harder than it looks.

Filmed in gritty black and white, the film has a bit of a verité look to it, a cross between a newsreel and noir. Portuguese director Gaudéncio has a good eye and lines up some really nice shots, although at times he seems to fall in love with his own imagery; early on, an out of focus shot of passing streetlamps runs on interminably. I suspect that he is still learning the rhythms of film making, or at least of editing.

Even so, the movie runs on a mere 67 minutes so there is brevity to it, but it covers a 24 hour span. That’s not nearly enough time to get to know five people, and so Gaudéncio opts not to even try. We get no interviews, no voiceover narration, no graphics. Just raw footage and there is something to be admired about that.

Still, even a documentary is telling a story and in that sense Gaudéncio abrogates his responsibility by simply putting up the footage and letting us see it, forcing us to draw our own conclusions. Why did these four women, all of whom are beauties, enter the ring in the first place? What about what is likely the world’s most brutal sport appealed to them? What did they hope to accomplish? Were they intending to turn pro? None of these questions are answered because none of these questions are asked.

We end up not caring much who wins or loses each fight; we are simply observers and are not invested in what we see. That is the difference between raw footage and a documentary; in one, we become interested in the subjects because we know something about them and can relate to them. The other is like watching a boxing match on HBO – worse still, because HBO generally tells you something about the boxers and who they are. Here we are left with little more than names.

The paucity of information is offset somewhat by the dazzling electronic soundtrack and the beautiful black and white images. Perhaps this is a movie that simply should be experienced without preconceptions and without judgment; in that sense, this is what cinema verité is supposed to ideally be. However, this isn’t a film that is inclined to spoonfed their audience anything and while we get maddening glimpses of who these people are, we don’t get enough to really want to get to know them further which is simply death to a documentary.

At the end of the day the fighters and their managers become mere faces on a screen. Pretty faces, yes; but just faces nonetheless. They are no more compelling than the animatronic figures in the Disney parks and that does them a disservice. I think I see what the director was going for here, and I can admire his desire to make something unique, but unique doesn’t necessarily mean better always. I think there are those who will love this movie – certainly boxing fans will want to see it – but I think that there are many more who will find this a hard sell.

WHY RENT THIS: Love the soundtrack. Some cool cinematography.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No interaction with boxers whatsoever. Look, Ma, I’m directing. Style over substance.
FAMILY VALUES: Boxing violence and some foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The longest production element was the soundtrack, which took four months to record and sync.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Vimeo
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: The Gift

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