Much of Paul Barakat’s film is set in the sweaty confines of the gymnasium where Danny works as a cleaner when he’s not nagging John (Jerome Pride), the harassed owner of the place, into giving him some training.
While John is sympathetic, he’s too busy catering to the inflated egos of the boxers already in his care to engage with Danny’s complicated inner life. But, eventually, he gives in, consenting – with a measure of embarrassment – to train him after hours if he’ll promise to keep this arrangement secret.
The film is a family affair done on a small budget. It was funded by Barakat and a group of close relatives with a little help from a crowdfunding initiative, but it’s been punching above its weight with a showing at the Melbourne Film Festival and a best picture award from the Tertio Millennio Festival, which was set up in Rome in 1997 by John Paul II for films with some spiritual component.
In Danny’s case, this centres on his reluctant moves towards a point where he can finally feel at ease in his own body. It’s a slow, painful business, but fortunately, Barakat has prevented it from being equally painful for us with the strength of his cast and his determination not to be po-faced in his treatment of Down syndrome.
Pride brings a red-eyed doggedness to the role of John, who’s battered by financial worries and the demands of his snippy wife. And Deborah Jones is terrific as Danny’s foster mother, whose easy-going manner masks a thorough understanding of the forces driving him into the boxing ring.
Less compelling are the workshop scenes where Danny joins other young people with Down syndrome in exercises designed to help them physically and psychologically. While these sessions hold the key to his eventual breakthrough, they signal an awkward shift in tone with a staginess that sits oddly with the rawness of the rest of the film. But it’s a bold piece of work tackled with a perceptive candour.