An uncommonly moving feature about characters in desperate circumstances, SCHIZO offers both a unique coming-of-age story and a sterling feature debut by director Guka Omarova. The film concerns Mustafa, or "Schizo," ... more »a boy not quite 15 years old, who becomes caught up in sordid adult dealings, and must struggle to maintain his sense of beauty and right as he develops the expertise and thick skin of a true player. Growing up in the destitute early '90s Kazakhstan, and nicknamed "Schizo" for his eccentric behavior in school (for which he also earns a drug regimen and the ominous prospect of other treatments), the young man lives an unrewarding home life in early-'90s Kazakhstan with his single mother and her boyfriend Sakura (a small-time hood.) The makeshift family is poor, and the adults pay little attention to Schizo's prospects, except that Sakura offers Schizo a role in his own income scheme: procuring other men who will agree to fight in an underground and illegal boxing syndicate. The men will vie for money and cars, but few will ever win, and some are horribly injured. Already toughened by life, Schizo takes to this work with zeal, happy to have a little spending money. But he is taken aback when one recruit - a young man named Ali - dies after his boxing match, entrusting a small amount of money to Schizo, to be delivered to Ali's girlfriend Zina. Feeling a faint sympathy for the dead Ali, Schizo finds Zina, a somewhat older woman, living in a small hovel on the outskirts of his town. Also living there is someone Ali never mentioned: his young son Sanzhik, a mere toddler who finds the new, teenage stranger intriguing. Keenly aware of Zina's wrenching poverty (as well as her debilitating limp), Schizo delivers Ali's money without initially breaking the news of his tragic death. Finally observing this last formality, he becomes a regular visitor at Zina's home. Much to their mutual surprise, the three young, wounded people take on the aspect of a family more functional than Schizo's own. Schizo and Zina undertake a physical relationship (especially tender, given his relative inexperience). Schizo also develops a special bond with young Sanzhik, gradually coming to provide the stability and warmth that his own childhood has so sorely lacked. But in his growing desire to support Zina and Sanzhik, Schizo must raise more money, and he redoubles his involvement with the illegal fighting operation, even recruiting an alcoholic uncle to undergo the punishing ordeal. When the uncle's unexpected win foils the schemes of Sakura's crooked boss, Schizo faces possible disaster - and realizes that this represents calamity to his new family as well. The decisions he makes next are both noble and wrenching. Austere direction, stark imagery and magnificent performances (especially by a remarkable Olzhas Nusuppaev in the title role) combine in a memorable portrait of a vulnerable and humane young man, blossoming in the toxic soil of a devastated country.« less
Seeking and Finding Meaning in the Midst of Bleakness
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 09/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"SCHIZO is a stunning cinematic achievement from Kazakhstan courtesy of Gulshat Omarova who directed and co-wrote with Sergei Bodrov this story of survival in the bleak landscape of poverty in that part of the world about which we know little.
Mustafa (nicknamed Schizo by his schoolmates who find his behavior crazy) lives with mother and her boyfriend Sakura (Eduard Tabishev), a worldly guy who arranges illegal, brutal boxing matches with unemployed desperate men who are placed in a ring with 'professionals'. Schizo's mother seeks help for Schizo from a kindly doctor (who she pays in eggs and sour cream of her own making): the doctor (Viktor Sukhorukov) prescribes pills for Schizo's behavior and headache and recommends expensive test in the nearby city.
Sakura engages Schizo to ferret out 'victims' for the illegal games, offering companionship and some money to the lonely kid. At one fight a young man Ali is beaten to death and as he dies he makes Schizo promise to give his 'winning money' to his girl Zinka (Olga Landina) and his son. Schizo keeps his word and delivers the money to Zinka who lives below the poverty level in a shack outside of the tiny town. Schizo makes friends with Zinka's young son, and ultimately is forced to tell Zinka that Ali is dead. Furious at first, Zinka gradually warms to Schizo as he repeatedly brings her little gifts he buys with the money from his work with Sakura. The three finally form a semblance of family, a life Schizo has never known.
Sakura's dealings with the illegal boxing come to disaster when Schizo's alcoholic uncle, bribed to fight, actually wins, destroying the crime ring. Sakura convinces Schizo to rob a little store so that he can pay back the irate crime leaders, but as soon as the robbery is successful, Sakura denies Schizo his rightful 50%, tries to flee, but Schizo shoots the escaping Sakura, leaving Schizo now a killer but with all the stolen money as his own. How Schizo deals with this mixture of misfortune and luck and the consequences of his behavior forms the ending to this little story.
The acting is extraordinary, especially on the part of novice Oldzhas Nusupbayev as Schizo, a young actor given little dialogue but who is able to tell legions of information with his eyes. The camera work and musical scoring are as sensitively minimal and effective as is the story: the images of poverty and deserted structures left behind by the fall of the Soviet Union are mesmerizing. Highly Recommended. In Russian with English subtitles. Grady Harp, September 05"
Impressive Debuts All the Way Around
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 06/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Schizo. This appears to be the first major picture out of Kahzikstan and what an impressive, stunning debut of a film. Schizo is the story of a 15 year old boy everyone thinks is schizophrenic. He's kicked out of school for fighting, but instantly the viewer will recognize this young man as the sanest, most responsible person in the film. He's hired by his mother's boyfriend to recruit fighters for illegal bare-knuckle fights. Shortly into his new career, a young dying fighter asks the boy to bring his winnings to his girlfriend and his son. Immediately Schizo develops a sense of responsibility for this little family and does whatever he can to ensure their well being. Things turn nasty, but a pervading sense of hope seems to light Schizo's eyes and one never questions his judgment and he stays true to some code of honor that no one else seems to have in this tale.
It's a powerful, beautiful story with a sensational film debut from Oldzhas Nusupbayev. Throughout the film I kept wondering "where did they FIND this kid?" - and I was startled to learn he had never before acted, had no family and was actually growing up in an orphanage and discovered there. His performance is the lynchpin on which the entire film is hinged.
Writer/Director Guka Omarova's location scenes are visually strong, conveying a sort of resigned hopelessness and presenting a post-Soviet Kahzikstan landscape that feels like a world that had been stripmined for all its worth and then merely abandoned. Equally as impressive as this landscape are the wildly diverse and unforgettable faces of the multi-ethnic populations of this country.
Olga Landina plays the love interest and she is like a young, vibrant, Eastern bloc Rebecca Demornay. Hot.
Schizo is a real find!"
Looking at Kazakhstan
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 02/27/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
Looking at Kazakhstan
Amos Lassen and Cinema Pride
When we think of Kazakhstan, I doubt that we think of beauty. I have learned that Kazakhstan is indeed a land of beautiful landscapes--there is great beauty in the starkness there. Picture This Entertainment has managed to release another movie of how children are used to do the jobs of adults in "The Recruiter", a visually stunning film. A 15 year old Kazakh youth, Mustafa, is told by his mother's boyfriend that he must procure young boxers so that they can fight illegally and men can gamble. When one of the young boxers receives a terrible blow to the head, the boyfriend sends Mustafa to deliver the prize money to his (the boxer's) girlfriend and young son. Mustafa finds them living in an almost poverty like shack somewhere in the middle of nowhere and immediately falls in love with the girl and decides to raise the young boy. But he only knows how to support people in the way he has been taught and instead of attempting to lead an honest life, he continues in his illegal activity. This is not an easy film but as I watched I learned so much. I first learned of the country of Kazakhstan and of the nature of the people and the beauty of the country but more than that I learned of the use of youth to do an adult's job. I felt myself full of rage as I watched the young kid throw his life away by succumbing to the demands of his mother's low-life boyfriend. I do not understand how children get involved in this sort of activity; I understand even less why they continue with it. Even with that, I must confess that everything about this movie is first class. The acting is wonderful, the characterizations are epic and believable and the photography is crystal clear. The script is literate and beautifully written and this movie will expose you to many new ideas. "
Like "Over The Top" but about boxing instead of arm wrestlin
Dave Dave Dave | Midwest | 08/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like many of my all-time-favorite moments in narrative cinema (Love Streams, Nobody Knows, Alice In The Cities, L'Argent), Guka Omarova's Schizo is not a mere "list" of characters, places, and events --- as all too many movies unfortunately are --- but rather a work of art that feels like an actual experience. There are enough striking faces and locations in this movie to rival Werner Herzog in his prime, and thankfully Omarova used these components to create a smart, visually rich and impeccably paced "coming-of-age" story that undoubtedly ranks among the most impressive debut features of recent years. Admittedly the film-to-video transfer on this edition of the DVD isn't quite Criterion-quality, but it is, however, fairly decent, and truth be told I enjoyed watching Schizo at home just as much as I did the two times I managed to see it in the theater. I highly recommend this film."
Doing the right thing . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 10/29/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This coming-of-age film from Kazakhstan follows the adventures of a possibly slow-witted teenager who gets involved with a kind of Fight Club, and when one of the fighters dies, the boy befriends the fighter's girlfriend and the man's young son. Performed with complete credibility by a nonprofessional actor who'd never appeared in a film before, the young man, nicknamed Schizo because of his apparent mental condition, observes, listens, and learns about life from the various adults he encounters. Meanwhile, he's never outwitted by any of them.
Life in Kazakhstan is not easy. Everyone scrapes by, makes do, sometimes sleeps rough, and trusts no one, yet the filmmakers find a way to make this world neither dreary nor despairing. Schizo clings to a kind of human decency, even while he loses his innocence, and while there's hardly a single good influence around him, he instinctively does the right thing. A disturbing but satisfying film."