Orthodox Stance

2007, Movie, NR, 83 mins

Review

ORTHODOX STANCE
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"If anyone wants a whupping from me, they got to wait until after sundown," says Ukraine-born welterweight boxer Dmitriy Salita, whose Orthodox Jewish beliefs are as central to his character as his will to win. But while Salita is a charismatic subject, Jason Hutt's documentary feels unfinished; still in his early 20s, Salita's life and career are works in progress.

Salita's family moved to Brooklyn when he was nine, looking to escape religious persecution and give their children opportunities they would never have back home. Salita began boxing when he was 13 at the Starrett City Gym in East New York, founded by trainer Jimmy O'Pharrow as a way to keep local teenagers off the streets. Salita channeled his frustrations – losing his mother to cancer, being mocked by his classmates for wearing ugly clothes, having to live on welfare – into the ring, representing New York in the Junior Olympics three years later and winning the Golden Gloves tournament in 2001. Controversial promoter Bob Arum, a veteran with four decades of experience, recognized both Salita's talent and his religious perspective, having himself been raised in the Orthodox tradition (from which he cheerfully admits he's long since strayed). Arum managed Salita's transition to professional matches, and helped negotiate his new client's distinctive needs: Salita keeps kosher, observes shabbat –he won't fight between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday – objects to near-naked ring girls and doesn't drink, which causes friction with the sport's ubiquitous liquor-company sponsors. And though the Orthodox community provides Salita's most ardent supporters, it also keeps him on the defensive – he must justify choosing a career filled with temptation.

Salita is a charming young man who's a living advertisement for the benefits of boxing training, and Hutt effectively captures his ongoing struggle to balance his secular and religious obligations. But it's hard not to feel that the real story will unfold later, when Salita is no longer young, undefeated and uninjured; that's when his faith will be put to the test and the strength of his commitment tried – that's the stuff of real drama. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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