A stark and stylistic hybrid of the Dardennes’ formal austerity and Terrence Malick’s lyricism, Kazakhstan director Guka Omarova’s debut Schizo crafts a stirring portrait of economically disadvantaged people forced to survive by any means necessary on the edges of civilization. Having been expelled from school for fighting, sleepy-eyed 15-year-old Schizo (Olzhas Nussuppaev)—his nickname a derogatory reference to his alleged mental slowness—is given work by his mother’s shady boyfriend Sakura (Eduard Tabishev) procuring brawlers for illegal fights. When one dying fighter asks Schizo, as a last request, to deliver money to his girlfriend Zinka (Olga Landina) and their son, the boy complies and, over time, becomes the father figure in their awkward but supportive familial unit. Yet trouble arises when Schizo, in a scheme to win some real money for himself, has his tough uncle enter the ring and brutalize a giant opponent, thereby earning not only a sizeable purse and a white Mercedes, but also Sakura and his crime boss’s wrath. Omarova’s opening shot of a boy (presumably Schizo) on a motorcycle in an expansive open field—first riding it with another person’s help, then by himself—foreshadows the Schizo’s difficult maturation, as well as highlights the oppressive emptiness of the land he inhabits. A flat, arid country littered with ramshackle dwellings and hollow husks of decrepit machinery, Schizo‘s harsh, unforgiving Kazakhstan is a natural setting for brutal bare-knuckle boxing matches, and cinematographer Khasan Kydyraliyev brings his cruel locations to life with a mixture of beautifully incongruous long shots (in which characters are dwarfed by their vast surroundings) and urgent hand-held close-ups. Populated with mostly non-professional actors whose guilelessness contributes to the film’s coarse aesthetic, Omarova’s film exudes a bleak realism even as it increasingly evokes Hollywood crime pictures (including double-crosses, daylight robberies, and murder), cute May-December romances (highlighted by Schizo’s grope-heavy dance with Zinka), and, with its jarring finale, storybook optimism that, ironically, also serves as a fitting conclusion for such an emotionally and structurally schizophrenic film.
- Picture This!
- 86 min
- Guka Omarova
- Guka Omarova, Sergei Bodrov
- Olzhas Nussuppaev, Olga Landina, Eduard Tabishev, Viktor Sukhorukov, Gulnara Yeraliyeva, Hrtaj Kanagat, Khorabek Musabayev
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