As compact and unaffected as its pugilist protag, “Comeback” follows Germany’s former light-heavyweight champ Juergen “the Rock” Hartenstein on a quixotic quest to re-enter the ring after three years off. There’s nary an ounce of fat in helmer Maximilian Plettau’s stylistically unvarnished approach, though his impassive camera places him squarely in the Frederick Wiseman mold. Pic’s no-nonsense narrative arc renders it a refreshingly old-school acquisition for fests and cablers.
Hartenstein leads a spartan existence working out in a cold-water Munich attic, prepping under the stern eye of African trainer Markus Kone while laboring as a local club’s bouncer. Steady emails and phone calls secure him a bout in Philadelphia, of all places, yet the City of Brotherly Love proves a formidable challenge to Hartenstein’s dream. Affable yet clearly driven, the fighter holds the screen with a steely grace softened somewhat by visit to his grandma’s house and geeky glee at re-creating Sylvester Stallone’s sprint up those museum steps. Jarring use of slo-mo and music during the climactic bout reps a low-key yet clever tip of the hat to the lasting impact of “Rocky.”