Inside the Distance: Into the ring of life
by Roberto Oggiano
- Rotterdam is hosting the latest film by Elias Grootaers, an intimate portrait of Armenian boxing coach Giorgi Shakhsuvarian
Elias Grootaers’s film, which is participating in the Bright Future section of the 46th edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, is called Inside The Distance [+see also:
film profile]. Based on the premise of director Otar Iosseliani that making a film about someone’s life is a crime, Belgian director Elias Grootaers does so and brings the life of Giorgi Shakhsuvarian, an Armenian boxing coach who has been living in Belgium for the last 13 years, to the big screen.
Although the subject matter of the film is boxing, the action often takes place off-screen, with the director preferring to linger on the faces of the protagonists (not only Giorgi Shaksuvarian but his young ward as well) as they engage in the many battles life throws at us.
The distance alluded to in the title can be interpreted in many ways: there’s distance from home, conveniently highlighted by the editing, there’s the distance you must keep from your opponent in the ring, the distance of a long match of 12 rounds, and finally the distance of the camera from its subject matter: the film is the story of the relationships between these different types of distance.
“I liked the idea of a comparison between film and boxing” said the director at the screening, “everything boils down to three things: time, space, and distance”.
It is these three key things that allow Elias Grootaers to create his own language, filming his documentary with freedom and creativity; the frame is often empty or cut across briefly by the actors: this too conveys the speed of boxing; the alternation between this and moments of reflection in Georgia; archive images of family films with their faded colours, which are alternated with the black and white of the present.
The documentary is narrated by Shaksuvarian himself, but we hear his voice only in voiceovers, purposefully distant: and this is the camera moves, lingering on the protagonists and etching out their profiles from both near and far, a way of filming that reflects the approach to studying an opponent, implying that being a boxing coach requires a certain dose of wisdom and courage, the same qualities that a director requires – it’s no accident that Giorgi Shaksuvarian is a cinephile – and which also allow Grootaers to win his fight with Iosseliani: it doesn’t end in a knockout, but is won on points, in a match, as they say in the sport, won on distance.
(Translated from Italian)
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