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There are echoes of Ken Loach in this Portuguese drama about a young immigrant boxer, a decent kid with no job prospects and few opportunities. Igor Regalla gives the film a heart with his disarmingly warm central performance as a young fighter from Cape Verde, a former colony. But the film’s claim to uncompromising realism is let down by a few cliched scenes that feel recycled from earlier boxing movies about plucky kids fighting for a place in the world.
The film opens with Gabriel (Regalla) in a boxing ring, dazedly absorbing ferocious blows. Why isn’t he defending himself? Flash back a few months, and he’s arriving in Lisbon to live with his aunt Alice (Mina Andala) and her son in a rundown estate of high-rise flats. Gabriel is drawn to the local boxing gym where his dad, who came to Portugal years ago, used to train, but he’s nowhere to be found.
Alice tells him to keep his head down, but one night Gabriel punches a local thug (José Condessa) whose drug dealer boss, sensing the opportunity to make a few bucks, sets up a boxing match between the two men. Naturally, both fall for the same girl, Elisa (Ana Marta Ferreira), which only aggravates the grudge. Meanwhile, a kind-hearted sex worker helps Gabriel to track down his dad.
Regalla’s soulful performance is the main reason to watch. And director Nuno Bernardo deserves credit for keeping the stakes low – the boxing match at the end of the film is not a title fight; just neighbourhood guys betting a few euros on kids who’ll only ever be famous in their own postcode. Still, the film’s shuffling of boxing cliches is hard to get past – and none of the performances from the bad guys feels remotely threatening, though the script doesn’t shy away from the everyday racism Gabriel faces on the streets.
• Gabriel is released in the UK on 15 November.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Gabriel review – plucky boxing story pulls its punches | Film