When one thinks of European Cinema, the images that pop to mind are definitely not Slovakian. In fact, it is very rare to find films from Central Europe available outside their own home countries, unless they capture the fleeting attention of some international awards. Koza, the first drama feature of director Ivan Ostrochovsky, did capture that attention, and does present a kind of cinema that works wonders as a palate cleanse from anglo-speaking productions.
Peter Baláz (Peter Baláz) is an ex-Olympian boxer that hardly makes ends meet, living with his girlfriend Misa in squalid conditions. When Misa finds herself pregnant, Balaz – also know as Koza, which means goat in Slovak – decides to take a boxing tour with coach Franek (Ján Franek) to make enough money to not only be able to pay for the abortion that Misa wants, but also to convince her that they can actually afford another child.
As all actors on screen are non-professional and are playing characters somewhat based on themselves (and named after themselves), Koza is particularly interesting for the lines it blurs between fiction and documentary, a genre Ostrochovsky is no stranger to. He does wonders here with an exquisite storytelling, never giving you more information than you absolutely need, slow-releasing moments and developments, and commanding his characters in a very naturalistic way. Words are sparse and music absent, while Koza, in his Slovakia jacket, trains with dire consequences to his health hoping (?) for a better life. When the final fight happens, and the camera stays at the dressing room on Franek’s face (the first time we see him caring for Koza, and not for the money), we have already surrendered to this economy of story precision.
Cinematographer Martin Kollár captures it all using a static camera and long shots; Slovakia is icy, full of slush, deprived of any beauty or sense of redemption. This choice gives the audience the psychological distance to avoid cheap melodrama and emotional manipulation. And yet, even without knowing the production backstory – life-inspired characters playing themselves, a made-up plot with a real life inciting incident, these are the real character circumstances – you will feel for Koza, and for his silent, conformed desperation facing a reality that he is not able to change.
This is no Raging Bull; there are no victories here, no beautiful slo-mo shots of cinema stars being hit on the face, no classical music making you feel things. And yet, Koza is probably one of the most powerful films about fighting of the last few years, as it, almost ironically, features as its protagonist someone that is unable to fight back.
Koza is now available to watch on Filmatique, a new streaming platform that curates a weekly release of works from new directors and award-winning world cinema films. For more information please check http://www.filmatique.
For an interview with Ivan Ostrochovsky, please check http://www.filmatique.com/watch-films/2016/12/28/koza