When I was younger I studied martial arts quite extensively; sparring sessions could get quite stressful and tiring. However, boxing, whether sparring or competing, always seemed way more intense to me. Down, But Not Out! highlights that stress and intensity in a not-so-typical documentary by director Miguel Gaudêncio. There is no narrator with this film, no prelude or introduction, just a camera following our subjects through the course of twenty-four hours.
Set in Poland, we follow four young amateur boxers, all women, as they prepare and compete in their first boxing matches. Gaudêncio makes a point to focus on the situation and not the spectacle. He does this by filming in black and white, giving the film an artistic aesthetic. Coupled with a striking musical score, a unique sense of realism is accomplished, pulling the viewer into the film as we join the four women in their first ring experience.
Our new boxers, Alicja, Monika, Agniezka and Anna, along with a few more-experienced boxers, including Daria and Tomasz, are under the guidance of coach Prezemyslaw Rydynski. I really enjoyed watching the coach as he mentored the women and attempted to motivate them to do their best and accept the experience for what it is, even if they don't win their respective matches; you only ever get one "first time." I was drawn in and touched by the bond the coach has with each of his fighters. The mental preparedness, the physicality, and the courage involved in stepping into the ring as a boxer is highlighted. We are shown first the men's matches, allowing us to contrast them against being then shown the women's matches, as our young boxers give it their all.
The film ends with the late night bus ride home, each boxer forever changed, tired, aching, but all richer for the journey. The coach then imparts a final lesson to them: whether they won or not, the experience will forever change their perspective on training; on sparring; and in facing life.
At 71 minutes, this Polish documentary is time well-spent with no filler, no fluff, just a day in the real life of four young boxers taking their shot in the ring for the first time. Even if you're not a fan of sports documentaries, this is highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of the reality of life.