Asensitively handled meditation on the four seasons of life as witnessed by four professional fighters at various stages of their careers, “Boxers” astutely sidesteps the cliches of its widely depicted subject. Winner of the Fipresci (international critics) prize in Turin, this low-budget feature should go a few rounds on the fest circuit.
The film marks a satisfying switch to directing for Italo actor Lino Capolicchio, best known for his leading role in Vittorio De Sica’s “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and his frequent appearances in the films of Pupi Avati.
The three central episodes are effectively shot in melancholy B&W by lenser and sometime director Arnaldo Catinari. These are framed by an interview with the Italian boxing champion of the ’40s and ’50s, Tiberio Mitri, filmed in color and intercut with archive footage of his title fights, including the match in which he was brutally defeated by Jake La Motta.
The first story, which dabbles in Visconti-style neorealism, centers on 16 -year-old Ciro (Generoso Letizia), who shows promise during sparring sessions at the local gym in a poor factory town near Naples. Forced to fight his best friend and training partner (Giovanni Tranquillo) in the regional championships, Ciro gets his first bitter taste of the personal conflicts of a competitive adult world.
Next is an up-and-coming boxer (Pierfrancesco Favino) imprisoned by rain in an English hotel room, apprehensively awaiting what will be a decisive match in his career. His private fear is interrupted by visits from his manager, an old acquaintance and a reporter who may have been sent by his opponent to jangle his nerves.
Stylistically more ambitious and perhaps less successful, the third part replays the life of a boxer whose career is on the skids while he undergoes his last humiliating defeat. The fragmentary episode fails to conjure quite the same emotional depth as the two more simply structured stories that precede it.
Mitri’s reflections also feel somewhat disharmonious when intercut with the scripted dramas. But in the final section, in which the retired champion looks back over his boxing career, the docu device pays dividends, enriching the film’s examination of courage, stamina, competitiveness, professional ethics and defeat. The four sections are united by their sense of disillusionment and by their refusal to glorify or romanticize the sport and its violence.
Capolicchio draws honest performances from the cast, many of whom are nonprofessionals taken directly from the boxing world. Made for less than $ 375, 000, the film’s only technical drawback is uneven sound recording.