Boxing clever fails to come off for Portuguese filmmaker Nuno Bernardo.


Susana Sá and Sérgio Praia

The title figure in Nuno Bernardo’s film is a boxer, so it is understandable that Gabriel should open with a scene in the ring. Even so, it’s a puzzling beginning since this pre-credit sequence is not easy to place once the main narrative starts up. We now find ourselves viewing the arrival of Gabriel (Igor Regalla) in Lisbon to live with his aunt (Mina Andala). We quickly learn that this young man is the son of a boxer (Ângelo Torres) and wants to follow in his footsteps. Gabriel is still a student and takes a part-time job, but he goes also to the local gym where his father had trained. Before long he is due to participate in his first boxing match in Portugal. However, his opponent, Rui (José Condessa), belongs to a gang run by Jorge (Sérgio Praia) who puts pressure on fighters to win or lose on his instructions.


There have been so many great boxing films that new works fall under their shadow. Having had no special hopes of Gabriel, I found that initially it worked well enough gaining from the novelty of telling a boxing tale in which the hero is from the Cape Verde Islands and from the fact that the film’s lead actor, Igor Regalla, comes over well. But, as the film proceeds, two major miscalculations seriously impede enjoyment.


The first of these is due to trying to cram in too many subplots. One of these concerns Gabriel’s search for his father who has disappeared; a second sees Gabriel being attracted to Elisa (Ana Marta Ferreira) who acts as a teacher to his young nephew; a third involves Kelly (Susana Sá), a prostitute who had been friendly with Gabriel’s father and who overcomes initial doubts to help locate him; a fourth reveals a hidden family secret that explains why Gabriel’s late mother had become so distanced from his father. Had these elements been used to tell the story as a TV serial in several episodes they might have fallen into place, but in a film lasting little more than an hour and a half they emerge as inadequately developed as well as having details (or a lack of  them) which strain credibility.


The second misjudgment at least serves to explain that strange opening to the film. Gabriel had seemed to be moving chronologically towards the big fight between Gabriel and Rui but, when it gets there, scenes of the match are interrupted again and again for flashbacks revealing more of what had happened to Gabriel following his arrival in Lisbon. This becomes a confusing way to tell the story and also one that is utterly disruptive of the tension that should exist in the fight. What does now become clear, however, is that the prologue was a preview of this very match, but in trying to be clever by playing with time in this way the film shoots itself in the foot. For that matter, there is a final scene that seems to imply a happy ending but which is quite at odds with the way in which the tale has developed. The cast deserved better and as a writer/director Bernardo needs to curb his desire to be different - it is when Gabriel is at its most conventional that it works best.




Cast: Igor Regalla, José Condessa, Ana Marta Ferreira, Mina Andala, Sérgio Praia, Susana Sá, Almeno Gonçalves, Ângelo Torres, Paulo Seco, Eduardo Lima, Henriqueta Maia.


Dir Nuno Bernardo, Pro Nuno Bernardo and Sara Marques Moita, Screenplay Nuno Bernardo, Ph Pedro Negrão, Pro Des Nuno Mello, Ed Ricardo Gouvela, Music Tim Janssens, Costumes Sara Lopes.


Beactive Entertainment-Jade Films.
93 mins. Portugal. 2018. Rel: 15 November 2019. Cert. 15.