Normally, I’m the last to weigh in on any televised fighting sports event. I’ll partake sometimes but I don’t prioritize it. Unsurprisingly I’m attracted more to the filmic potential of such a sport with a narrative that comes handled with ample attention and passion which leads me to Afonso Poyart’s most recent offering, Stronger Than The World, backed in part by the UFC and host to the life story of mixed martial artist and prominent featherweight, Josè Aldo.
The film’s release was delayed last year into the summer in fear of a box office flop following Aldo’s January UFC 194 loss to Conor McGregor. I’m not entirely certain about the box office but the film did eventually make its way to screens and on Netflix before too long and I’m all the more thankful for this particular approach, as often long and winding as it takes for some films to find an audience or even distribution, and granted, I certainly didn’t see this one coming.
It was Poyart’s 2011 crime thriller, 2 Coelhos, that helped get this project the traction it needed with Paris Filmes’s director of expansion and shareholder Sandi Adamiu. From that point on through the various development hurdles that followed, production eventually led the way from a script written in part by Poyart, and a cast suited strongly for the players depicted in Aldo’s life, including lead actor Josè Loreto.
Stronger Than The World picks up with Aldo at the prime of his troubled life as a young adult living day-to-day in the impoverished slums and streets of Manaus. He bodes with altheltic potential as a BJJ student while also dealing with the torment of his own psychosis – amped by spates of domestic abuse suffered by his mother, his father’s alcoholism, and his brewing rivalry with fellow Jiu Jitsu classmate, Fernandinho.
These circumstances eventually reach a collective boiling point when Aldo arrives home one day and discovers that his mother and sisters have left. Advised by his father to do the same – a pivotal turning point for Aldo in wake of his long tested and fractured relationship with his father, he moves to Rio De Janeiro to start over and lands himself at a gym under the management of his would be, Dedé (Milhelm Cortaz), who also becomes aware of Aldo’s fighting prowess.
Soon enough, Dedé makes Aldo an offer to train him following an impromptu street brawl. His opportune start as a professional MMA fighter and the additional fortune of finding love with fellow gym member, Vivi, Aldo’s life reaches a phase that will ultimately bring him face to face with past demons, imploring questions surrounding his own self-discovery as a fighter whose world, time and again, has nearly come crashing down on him.
Loreto brings raw talent to the screen in the title role, adhering to the frequently unnerving psychosis of someone constantly on the edge. The actor, in his debut feature film role, is staunchly fit and in fighting form, and although I’m not too well known about his background or training regime, I can only imagine what it took to adapt to Aldo’s techniques and execution along with the hours of footage he’s had to watch in prep for the role; I read that at one point he injured himself during production. For what its worth, however, our lead actor manages to make it work; key moments reach a certain heightened intensity for the role of Aldo, illustrated by montage moments and hallucinatory, almost nightmarish imagery – quickly edited but concentrated with emphasis on importance with respect to character development.
Aldo’s romance is fun to see blossom and evolve with Loreto and actress Cleo Pires who plays Aldo’s girlfriend and evident spouse, Vivi. Pires performs with resilience and gusto, commanding Vivi’s the on-screen romance with Aldo as it undergoes its own tumultous evolution – angled by Aldo and his own inner-turmoil. Hers is a personality that doesn’t succumb to certain woes and she doesn’t suffer a fool. She nonetheless sees untapped greatness in Aldo despite his flaws with respect to her own.
The seething undercurrent of bitterness Aldo shares with Fernandinho foundates the film as one of its biggest highs with a menacing performance by Rômulo Neto. We start witnessing the contention within the first twenty minutes of Poyart’s two hour epic drama, setting the often cataclysmic tone of Aldo’s progression throughout the story and with some good writing and execution in between, the movie never loses steam. The action scenes, m are a huge help here with some exciting sequences, including Aldo and his two friends as they attempt to drive through the narrow streets of Manaus while chased by two men, ensuing in Aldo’s first hand-to-hand encounter with Fernandinho. The fight choreography here is a plus courtesy of Renan Medeiros whose invokes a keen understanding of directing techniques that build from the film’s heighted drama and Aldo’s own transformation as a fighter into manhood from inside out.
Factoring in all these and more that entails with the film are recurring themes of redemption, much ado with facing demons. There’s a line that Aldo’s father, Seu José (Jackson Antunes), tells his son one morning in which they discuss hopes of leaving Manaus. It is one of several lines in many of the film’s pivotal and gripping scenes aided by Antunes’s soulful delivery of a character whose penchant for despicability is matched only by his hardship and Aldo’s understanding, and stoical acceptance and fondness of him even until his last breath.
Considering how rare a lot of action titles are from most places outside of mainstream markets, Poyart’s contribution here is a rewarding one. Stronger Than The World is a low-budget production made with only about five million dollars, which is more than enough to challenge any director, and what becomes thereafter is a feat that brims with quality and finesse, highlighting a stark, vast account of a remarkable life characterized by strife, sorrow, tragedy and love between two worlds.
Poyart isn’t your typical genre film director with a resumè like his, but he shows here that he can handle making an action film despite a few improvements in the lensing department in future projects to come. What counts, principally, is his ability to make movies and unfold stories first and foremost and given the right script and people involved, I wouldn’t complain if he decided to do another film in the same caliber and category or other. With 2 Coelhos under his belt, Stronger Than The World showcases him as a contender with knowledge on how to unfold a layered, enduring fight-heavy drama that pulls few punches and never backs down.