Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brothers, Champions, Sportsmen: Klitschko

Mother Klitschko is no fun. She expressly prohibited her boxer sons Vitali and Wladimir from fighting each other. Of course, that is exactly what the boxing world wants to see. Sebastian Dehnhardt profiles the two well educated Ukrainian brothers who rose to the top of the boxing ranks, got knocked down, and clawed their way back in the simply but aptly titled documentary Klitschko (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Growing up military brats, the Klitschko brothers’ father was an ardent Communist. However, he would pay for his blind faith, when his unit responded to the Chernobyl crisis without adequate protective gear. Fortunately, when his cancer inevitably surfaced, the Klitschkos already had sufficient means to provide their father with the best of western medicine. Not coincidentally, the now cancer-free Col. Klitschko has had a complete ideological change of heart, at least according to his sons.

Though not technically twins, the Klitschko boys were always big and nearly impossible to tell apart. The older Vitali actually started out as a kick-boxer while so-called “Western martial arts” were forbidden in the Orwellian Soviet Union. Eventually, the Klitschkos switched to boxing, where fighters could make serious money. Due to inopportune injuries, they lost several high profile bouts they should have won. The elder Klitschko was especially dogged by the quitter epithet. Yet, both brothers would have their Rocky moments in the ring.

Klitschko the film is definitely produced with boxing fans in mind. However, those who follow post-Soviet politics will also find Dehnhardt’s documentary engaging. A reformer, the elder Klitschko was even elected to the Kiev City Council for two stormy terms. It also offers an illuminating perspective on the Chernobyl crisis, which is still not well understood in the west.

Not surprisingly, Dehnhardt shows a whole lot of fight scenes, but he lucidly establishes the dramatic import of each match and the quality of the footage is uniformly high. When a Klitschko connects, it definitely looks like it hurts. In addition to the Klitschkos and their parents, he also includes extensive commentary from their contemporaries in the ring, many of whom, like Chris Byrd (and his young son) are truly gracious sportsmen on-camera. Frankly, the film has no villains, per se (except perhaps the delegate who inexplicably took a swing at Vitali Kilitschko during a heated council session). Indeed, Dehnhardt argues the lack of a flashy nemesis has prevented the pugilist brothers from getting their proper due. Of course, they can hardly go back in time and fight Ali in his prime.

While they are certainly imposing, the Brothers Klitschko are clearly smart and articulate, shrewdly making the effort to connect with the film’s audience. Briskly paced and quite informative, Klitschko was easily the most entertaining documentary at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Highly recommended, it opens theatrically this Friday (10/21) in New York at the AMC Empire.