Dan Bigras is an interesting figure in the French Canadian showbiz universe. He’s the kind of guy who’s almost too intense, too sincere for his own good. Maybe that’s why, while he got a few of his records playing on the radio and his few videos played on Musique Plus, he never quite “made it”, meaning that, while he’s probably living reasonably well off his music, he’s no big glamorous star. Good for him. He’s stayed true to his roots, getting involved with the homeless youth and various social causes. And now, quite surprisingly, he’s come out with an ONF-produced documentary about Ultimate Combat!

Maybe because he’s never been one to spread out his life in the tabloids, I wasn’t aware that he’d been delving in martial arts these past few years, getting himself back in shape after he quit drinking. He befriended professional fighter Charles Ali Nestor, a Haitian young man who hasn’t had it easy, getting from a bad childhood with an abusive father to messing around with street gangs and ending up in a detention centre. Painstakingly, he’s learned to express himself instead of holding it all in, and to focus his rage in the ring, and trying to be a good model to his young son and his boxing students. The film is mostly about Nestor, for whom Bigras serves as cornerman, but we also get to know their other chums, be it the always grinning, cocky 21 year old David Loiseau or thirty-something proletarian Steve Vigneault.

“Le Ring Intérieur” (The Ring Within) is kind of like a non-fiction “Fight Club”, not for the satirical social commentary and stylistic flourishes, just for the physical catharsis part. We meet men haunted by inner demons, men filled with unhealthy anger, men used to failure who’ve finally found a way to let some steam out, to fight off their personal issues, feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. In form, Bigras’ film is rather clumsy, with its rugged video images, and the ideas, while interesting, are not expressed with much subtlety or depth, but that’s alright. The film’s roughness is part of what makes it effective. What’s certain is that Bigras really cares for these guys, and that translates to us in the audience. I didn’t expect to feel so much for the people in the film, but I did. You really get to see where they’re coming from, so when they step into the ring you know that it’s not just about kicking the other dude’s ass.

Bigras’ goal seems to be to give a more positive, more accurate look of a much maligned sport and the athletes who practice it, and he’s achieved it. His movie changed my impression of Ultimate Combat as either barbarian or homo-erotic. It’s really a good documentary, warts and all. I don’t know if it’ll get a release out of Canada, but seek it out if you can.