Boxing films are often about victory, motivation and grandeur, but Koza rather takes us on a prosaic journey of life’s miseries, challenges and defeats. This far more realistic approach allows for something very special to be captured by Ivan Ostrochovský’s first narrative feature film. Koza must face the reality of his situation: his wife is pregnant with their second child, he is a retired boxer deformed of vitality and stripped of cash, and he must go on a journey and battle for money the only way he knows how: in the ring. He will not raise his arms like Rocky or let his energy run mad like Jake LaMotta, rather he will remain reserved and focused on accepting the truth of his laden circumstances.
There are bizarre moments, including swallowing roar eggs (an undeniably efficient source of protein), anxious moments, excelled by the static camera and long takes, and downright sad ones in which all hope seems rather hopeless. These feelings are topped off with shrewdly arresting imagery of dark, cold and isolated landscapes shot during an unforgiving Slovakian winter. Concussions, vomiting and silenced thought are the main forms of action for Koza who pertains a matter-of-fact reflection on his uncomfortable circumstances. A non-professional actor, Peter Baláž, who accordingly plays to his own life and supposedly his very own attributes, enhances such minimalistic and pragmatic storytelling. It all occurs at the level of life.
Ostrochovský allows his audience time to think and reflect on the reality of our experience. Long takes are chief to this technique, but the context of their use is entirely novel in this picture. Koza is detached from his previous achievements, he looks and feels lost and shows little emotion upon defeat. What is magical about this film is the defeat; they get worse and worse and there will never be a pay off. It is clear from the opening shot of the film that this will be a struggle. Long takes on the road, shaped by tunnels of light and pending rain clouds signify a journey with no ending. Even such details as the dew on the windscreen drip like the blood of Koza’s final defeat. The next and final shot of the film reflecting the first hint of sunlight crossing between the clouds and significantly a last bite of hope.
“He’s a King”, says Koza’s coach to a colleague. Koza may not appear as a King, but he acts as our King and we keep our distance to him as we would any King. The King is detached and we will never know the underlying reasons for his actions and ultimate demise. He will not let us inside his mind, but we are certainly drawn into wanting to find out more. I will finish by contradicting my beginnings: this is not a film about boxing.
The film’s UK Premiere will be at Edinburgh Film Festival 2015. See the programme here.