A former Olympic flyweight boxer, already down on his luck financially, finds himself in a further bind when he learns his girlfriend Miša is pregnant. Out of shape and slowed by years of hard living, Koza (which means “goat” in Slovak) nonetheless sets out on a cold, dark tour of small Eastern European towns to fund an abortion. With dubious boss-turned-manager Zvonko calling the shots, the two set out in search of any fight they can find for small fistfuls of petty cash.
This brooding but visually breathtaking film, the Slovak entry for Best Foreign Film at the 88th Academy Awards, is the narrative feature debut from Ivan Ostrochovský. His background in documentary film invests this remarkable feature with a visceral realism comparable to the early narrative work of the Dardenne brothers. Koza also mines dark comedy and unexpected poignancy in rooting its story in the real background of its lead actor, a former boxer with the (fading) moves and bruises to prove it.
With Koza, Ostrochovský becomes a name for hardcore film-lovers to follow with deep interest, delivering a vivid look at the shadowy underbelly of boxing that channels Lisandro Alonso (of MDFF features Liverpool and Jauja) as much as it does grim and wry boxing precedents like Fat City. It’s the sort of cinematic gem off the beaten path that reminds us of the very specific meditative pleasures that only this art form can deliver. (Eric Allen Hatch)