Published Sep 10, 2015The titular Koza (Peter Baláz) is a former flyweight Olympic boxer living with his girlfriend Misa (Stanislava Bongilajová) in a dilapidated Slovakian housing development. Finances are a concern to the extent that Misa, upon learning of a pregnancy, tasks her boyfriend with earning enough funds for an abortion. Koza, whose job collecting scrap metal only allows him to barely make ends meet, partners with Zvonko (Zvonko Lakčević), his slightly more affluent manager, to embark on a boxing tour throughout the region to earn some money.
Koza, while technically a fictional story, treads the line between docudrama and formal experiment, analyzing a regional issue with cold distance and an added framework of manipulated authenticity. Peter "Koza" Baláz really is a struggling flyweight boxer; he competed in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia and was knocked out in the first round. As director Ivan Ostrochovský notes, his actual story is far more complex and dramatic than the one detailed on screen, which is where the lines between reality and fiction are blurred. Ostrochovský didn't want to create a sudsy, emotional pity piece; his interest, beyond the obvious socio-political backdrop of Roma existence, was in creating an objective distance from which to interpret the situation and the narrative form that shapes it. Koza is a deliberately detached work. It's meant to be interpreted and not felt.
Stylistically, this rather bleak, washed out work of protracted tragedy is static and reserved. We're always kept at a distance from the characters and the action, viewing them through medium and long shots with minimal movement. The story is one of defeatist repetition: Koza loses a fight, is told by a doctor never to fight again, and then moves on to another fight despite this advice. Our protagonist is beaten to the point of being unable to breathe properly, he's concussed and emotionally denigrated, but he pushes onward despite the obvious futility of his quest.
Clearly, there's commentary here about the cruel nature of dream ideation culture. Boxing matches are well attended, and every television screen seen in the periphery of this film is showing boxing. It's a way out of a life of poverty, and is advertised as a sort of fantastical escape, but it's not necessarily sustainable or realistic. Koza is an example of one of the many people that didn't win, and the reality of failing at a dream that we're told we can achieve is what Ostrochovský is depicting with this darkly formal Sisyphean work.
What's strange about Koza is that because of this detached style, there's also a darkly comedic undertone to it all. There are actually a couple of laugh-out-loud scenes that sadly stem mostly from just how pathetic this ailing, defeated man ultimately becomes. It's particularly odd given the knowledge that the actor and character are ostensibly the same person. Ostrochovský's stylistic experiment, removing us from the emotional component of this man's reality, allows us to judge and assess without investment or feelings of guilt, which is ultimately a shrewd and peculiar observation about the manipulative nature of storytelling.
The production company is ironically named "Sentimentalfilm," which reiterates this documentarian's interest in the nature of the objective eye. While Koza raises some interesting questions about audience engagement and the nature of authenticity, it doesn't quite challenge or subvert the form, necessarily. It's more of a transitional experiment that's playing with an idea.
It's an idea that's definitely going somewhere, which makes this more of a work demonstrating potential than a masterful piece unto itself. It will be interesting to see what Ostrochovský comes up with next.