REVIEW: A Fighting Chance
1988: Nermin Sebanovic is a dual Olympian and nine times national champion in Bosnia, winning more than 350 fights.
Flash-forward to 2006, and the now 42-year-old Sebanovic is living in Adelaide, Australia with his family–working as a security guard of sorts at the Aboriginal Sobriety Group where he helps street kids and those who are down-and-out–and dreaming of a comeback.
Sebanovic has put on a few pounds and now bruises more easily from the blows that still get through, but he still has the fighting spirit within him. He’s worked his way up the ranks to win an Australian championship and to claim the Oriental Pacific Belt: so make no mistake – he still has the goods in the ring. But after ten years in retirement, even his wife and daughters fear he doesn’t have that winning edge, and worse, he may be permanently hurt.
Written, shot and narrated by up-and-coming Australian director Mark Andersson, this short film skillfully shows the man behind the fighter: mixing with his daughters at home, getting his chest waxed, and at the local Bosnian club, where the machismo of the men paints a picture beyond boxing itself, and towards a redemption of their Bosnian heritage. It’s that ‘lost Bosnia’ that Sebanovic represents, fighting for the world title he would have had, for the future they were all promised, for closure and justice, and that is a heavy weight indeed to be carrying into the ring.
“My wife, Indiria, she says I’m too old [for boxing]. But I’m not. I’ve proved I’m not too old,” Sebanovic says after winning the first challenge to his Oriental Pacific belt. The real guts of this film is the tense–and loving–relationship between this ageing boxer, his needs for closure and acceptance, and his family and life now.
After losing a crucial bout in Japan and his belt, and taking a battering, Sebanovic agrees he needs to stop, and that “Boxing is a very hard business. Very hard.” The structure of the second half of the film then caters to showing how Sebanovic copes in his life back in Australia without his dream uplifting him.
Old injuries linger and the tension in the film balances between his dream and his age, as he decides to take one last fight to secure a second Australian championship, much to his family’s chagrin. Sebanovic loses that bout also, and packs it all in to focus on his family, letting go of his dream.
Director Andersson makes judicious use of slow-motion and multiple angles to capture the intensity of the fight within the ring, without lingering too long on the blow-by-blow violence. He thus skillfully shows the undeniable physicality of boxing without glorifying it, and finds just the right balance between the emotional journey and the action shots. Andersson paints a picture of Sebanovic as a good man, liked by his peers and community, and you can’t help but root for him in the ring.
But dreams die hard, and life goes on. And for Sebanovic, the fight of his life continues, one day at a time, accepting what is.