Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"Its refusal to treat fights as spectacle, together with its austere editing and static camera, provides a melancholic grounding."

Koza opens with an apt visual: a tyre being dragged along the side of a road, track mud and stagnant water as Peter Balaz takes his morning run. The bleak, washed out backdrop of Eastern Europe provides a fitting setting for this muted tale of a former Olympic Boxer trying to survive a short tour in order to earn enough money to pay for his wife to have an abortion.

The premises is curt and the rest of the film manages itself with quiet dignity, although it isn’t without its moments of humour. Peter is a born loser it seems, given one shot at the Olympics, and fading into obscurity ever since. He manages to convince his boss to take him on trip across Europe to earn cash for a series of fights, from which his boss-cum-manager will be taking a hefty 75%. There are the seeds of a redemption tale here akin to The Wrestler, with the ever present shadow of a truly tragic end, but Koza is as brutishly optimistic as its star.

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He knows he is past it, and every scene shows it. He cannot breathe because of a nose obliterated by previous fights. In fights he is mercilessly cut down after a few seconds of the first round, but there’s little voyeuristic glee to these contests, which are filmed in static long shots, free from the forced macho dynamism of the boxing epic. This is a punishing take on the trials of a professional fighter, but it takes no pleasure in showing this.

As they fly from fight to fight, they spend an uncomfortable amount of time simply staring into the middle distance, with nothing to say other than a few sentences on how good training is if it makes you vomit, and how useless the alcoholic trainer they pick up along the way is. Despite how terse and economic these exchanges are, they help sketch personality into Koza, a veritable force of nature who is willing to dismiss warnings of ailing health and ignore the catastrophic beatings he receives in order to provide something for his partner.

Coupled with the arthouse cinematography, this makes for a compelling film that says a lot with very little. Its refusal to treat fights as spectacle, together with its austere editing and static camera, provides a melancholic grounding. It's a far cry from pugilistic pretense, instead presenting a bittersweet and realistic tale of one man’s dedication to enduring repeated failure because he has no other choice.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2015
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A boxer comes out of retirement to help his girlfriend pay for an abortion.

Director: Ivan Ostrochovsky

Starring: Peter Balaz, Zvonko Lakcevic, Jan Franek, Stanislava Bongilajova, Nikola Bongilajova, Tatiana Piussi

Year: 2015

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Slovakia, Czech Republic

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