Director: Peter Solan
Starring: Stefan Kvietik, Manfred Krug, Valentina Thielová, Józef Kondrat, Edwin Marian
Language: Czech, German
Duration: 102 min.
In a Nazi concentration camp, an escapee awaiting execution is spared when the commandant, a former prize-fighter, discovers the prisoner has amateur boxing ability.
The Boxer and Death is a film directed by Slovak filmmaker Peter Solan. Set during WW2, the film takes place in a Nazi concentration camp run by Sturmbannführer Kraft (Manfred Krug), a former prize fighter who tries to keep his skills fresh by training in his private gym. While overseeing the execution of a group of prisoners for a failed escape attempt, he discovers that one of them, named Komínek (Stefan Kvietik), has some boxing background. Kraft invites him to the gym for a sparring session, and displeased with the lack of competition orders Komínek to bulk up and train in order to provide a better challenge.
A very well made film that uses the horrid conditions of the concentration camp as a backdrop to a tense psychological drama, somewhat bringing to mind Masaki Kobayashi's classic Human Condition Trilogy. Komínek quickly discovers that he is a much better boxer than Kraft but must fight the urge to reveal his true abilities in order to stay alive. His plight is made all the more difficult by the guilt he feels for receiving preferential treatment whilst many others are tortured or sent to the death chambers.
There are many ironic contrasting moments that make this simple story stand out. In one pivotal sequence, Komínek walks by a large group of new prisoners standing in a pen, while on his way to the camp clinic where he is to be given a thorough checkup by the Nazi doctor who treats him like a friendly patient. On his way out the prisoners are gone, all that remains in the pen are some personal belongings scattered on the ground and a solitary guard whistling a tune. The wind then picks up and we hear Komínek's screams of disgust and despair as he chokes on a thick billowing cloud of smoke carrying the black ashes of his fellow prisoners.
With poignant images, solid acting, and some impressively choreographed boxing, Solan delivers a powerful film and sadly mostly forgotten gem that deserves to be seen by more people.
— Bonjour Tristesse