VÍŤAZ – THE WINNER (1978)
Director: Dušan Trančík
Script: Dušan Trančík, Tibor Vichta
Music: Svetozár Štúr
Cinematography: Viktor Sloboda
Cast: Jaroslav Tomsa, Gejza Maráky
Dušan Trančík’s feature film VÍŤAZ first originally labeled as aesthetik des hässlichen by the censor board in the late 1970s, but its central theme of authentic values resonated strongly with Slovakian audiences who turned out to see the film. Trančík’s second feature film was also the second time working with writer Tibor Vichta and stylistically continued the director’s previous experience in documentary films. The short pace of the film, at 78 minutes, could be also attributed to Trančík’s original degree in film editing, as VÍŤAZ is absent of any sort of filler and sticks to its core theme.
Vladimir, once a championship boxer, is now an auto mechanic divorcee living in a small and dingy apartment in Bratislava. His personal life is troubled by his relationship with Viola, who happens to be the same age as the daughter he rarely sees. On the 20th anniversary of winning a match against Vinco, Vladimir is called and challenged to a rematch by Vinco himself. Vinco has spent the last 20 years preparing for his revenge, attempting to stay in shape, but his life has turned out differently from Vladimir. Vinco finds himself as a government official with a two-story house outside of town where he lives with his wife and three sons. As the fighters prepare for the match, both return to the past by seeking out their old boxing coaches in an attempt to revel in their glory days. The film ends with the rematch fight, but this time the audience is only Vinco’s family and Vladimir’s girlfriend. Although the rematch ends with Vinco winning, film viewers are left to question if Vladimir really tried to win the fight.
During VÍŤAZ, the audience spends the entire film questioning who the real winner is between Vinco and Vladimir. Vladimir won the original fight, but his life seems shattered and less than glamorous when compared to that of his opponent. As the narrative progresses, it’s apparent that Trančík wants us to also question who the moral winner is, by focusing on their lives in the present and how each respectively approaches the rematch. Vinco seeks out his boxing coach as a means to reconnect to his past in order to bolster his intent for revenge, while Vladimir and his coach drink and rekindle the dreams of when they used to be champions and on top of the world. Trančík also leaves us with an ambiguous ending to the fight that reinforces the idea that the winner of the fight is not the “winner” that the film is titled after. While Vladimir’s loss after a strong start seems to imply that his victory is being able to revel in the moment of boxing, Vinco’s is simply the materialistic win.
One of the more impressive characteristics of VÍŤAZ is its production. Trančík cast non-actors as the main roles with Vladimir being a one-time boxer and stuntman for the studio, and Vinco being an ex-boxer. This element of neorealism combined with shooting exterior shots in Bratislava and Zbehy strongly captures that authentic feel in the film. Cinematographer Viktor Sloboda also chose to shoot the film without artificial lighting, which leads to beautiful shots that often find Vladimir living among shadows and simultaneously dealing with the shadows of his past.
Overall VÍŤAZ is a superb feature film from Trančík that has all the distinction of an auteur well into his prime, with the experience and understanding to translate his vision across all elements of the film. VÍŤAZ is available in an English friendly edition from SME.