• Golden Globe Awards

The Champion (Poland)

The Champion, is the sports drama debut feature of director Maciej Barczewski, based on the memoir of bantamweight boxer Tadeusz Pietrzykowski.
A non-Jewish Polish boxer who is also known as “Teddy,” Pietrzykowski was one of the earliest prisoners who arrived at the newly created concentration camp at Auschwitz in 1940. He became famous because of his nearly undefeated strings of victories in the Nazi concentration camps.
Portrayed by the Polish actor Piotr Glowacki, Pietrzykowski finds himself entertaining the bored German soldiers by boxing in makeshift rings. Thanks to his exceptional boxing skills, he gets extra rations of bread and starts sharing it with the other inmates.
The compassionate prisoner boxer takes a teenage inmate Janek (portrayed by Jan Szydlowski) into his wings as they both are able to survive the sadistic practices of the prison guards.
The film also stars Rafal Zawierucha as Klimko, Marcin Czarnik (Bruno), Martin Hugh Henley (Officer from Neuengamme), Marcin Bosak (Lagerfuhrer), Piotr Witkowski (Walter), Grzegorz Malecki (Rapportfuhrer) and Lukasz Szoblik (Bumbo).
Asked in a November 2021 HFPA Zoom press conference how he physically prepared for the role, Glowacki answered, “We knew that we needed to work on my body to become the flyweight boxer in Auschwitz, so I needed to have muscles and lose my body fat. I had a group of people who were training with me from the very beginning, the first month. When I started, I was 80 kilograms. When I finished after 12 to 14 months, I lost 40 pounds.
“The first month, I started with jogging to move my body then I started training three times a week with trainers, one hour to box, one hour to work with my body weight, and CrossFit. Then since I was also preparing for another movie about Polish climbers in high mountains, I was also training on climbing. So, I had six days of activity a week.
“I had a diet of 1,500 calories which was 700 calories less than what I ate every day. When I started doing the diet, they checked the age and state of my body and it was for a 42-year-old man. But when I started the training, after the movie, it was like for a 37-year-old man already. So, I was like five years younger after this.
“My last trainer was the oldest boxing trainer who was a student of the same trainer of my character. One of his trainers was also a prisoner of Auschwitz so he knew the story and he also knew Tadeusz Pietrzykowski. He told me that the secret in the style is nothing, but the winning is everything.”
Glowacki disclosed that he mentally prepared for a very demanding role by going to Auschwitz and “to see this place, to try to understand what it was. When I was there for four days and three nights, I lived there, and I slept near wires because I slept in the administration building where, during the Second World War, it was the place of the administration. So, I had the same view as this German man, and near my window were wires.
“I had the chance to be there when I wanted, so I was walking there with guards in the night and the guards are also the guides. Those night walks were also historical walks. They were telling me very hard stories, which, when you go there, if you are not a special guest, but simply going to visit Auschwitz, they need to tell you some straight things about this hell situation.
“But when I was speaking to them, they were talking about life, how people tried to live there, how they tried to survive. The problem also about Auschwitz is that we also have in our mind that Auschwitz is one place.  It’s not one place.  We are speaking about Auschwitz at Heinz, the first camp. It was a political camp, and it was the death camp. It was made only to kill Jews.
“In this place, the Germans, the Nazis, the worst thing they gave you was that you had hope that you could survive, and this hope was some kind of power to fight with your co-prisoners. You wanted to find your place.  And you wanted to be fighting for them and Tadeusz Pietrzykowski found this in sport, in boxing.”
Glowacki admitted that when he read the screenplay, “The most potent scene for me was the last scene with the children. It was the moment when I cried reading the screenplay. And I thought it’s a great chance for me to play in a movie about not a boxing champion or about a hero, but about a teacher who survived and what should he attach to his life to become a good teacher? It was the question in my head.”