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Director: Samuel Juoy

Stars: Mathieu Kassovitz

Released: 2017 – Locarno Film Festival

Reviewer: Luke Walkley

The life of a journeyman boxer is not an easy one, essentially taking fight after fight purely for the paycheck. It can be demeaning and dangerous and in ‘Sparring’ we see the true reality of what it’s like to be a boxer relying on his next fight to feed his family and pay the bills.

Steve Landry (Kassowitz) is a 45 year-old boxer with a less-than-impressive professional record. As he gets older the fights are harder to come by and hit him harder after they’re done. Gearing up for what his wife tells him will be his last fight, he is offered the opportunity to become a sparring partner for a well-known boxer ahead of a championship fight – aka a punchbag with legs.

It’s difficult when it comes to boxing films to find a new perspective. We’ve had the b0ipics like ‘Ali’, the ‘Rgaing Bulls’ and the ‘Million Dollar Baby’s but with ‘Sparring’, Director Ben Landry manages to find a niche. By focusing more on the hardships of providing for a family and dealing with the reality thrown at him, we see a far more character-driven boxing drama.

Kassowitz is a wonderful leading man and buoyed by a strong supporting cast he is able to deliver an absorbing performance as Landry.

Where ‘Sparring’ also differs from films of a similar ilk, is in the fact that it’s not relying on that explosive knockout climax that we’re so often treated to. This doesn’t mean the movie lacks tension, it just builds it in a different way. Similar to an actual boxing match, the audience is experiencing those rounds with Landry, the lows, the losses and occasional victory, which, after 12 rounds makes it all the more special.

The main question that nagged at me after watching ‘Sparring’ was how will it be received on a larger scale? A French language film is unlikely to create much buzz outside of it’s home. Sure, it happens occasionally a la ‘Amelie’ but it begs the question that had this film been made in Hollywood, using a big name actor, would it have had the same impact? Would the increased financial return have meant a change to a more hollywood-esque style? I for one hope that this film is seen by boxing fans and film fans alike as, all too often, films such as ‘Sparring’ go under the radar.