- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

Another specimen of ethnic exotica showcased by the Landmark E Street Cinema, “Schizo” is the bleakly intriguing first feature of a young woman named Guka Omarova, who hails from Kazakhstan, once the vast southeastern frontier of the Soviet empire in Central Asia.

The film’s principal landscapes border Lake Kapchagai, about 60 kilometers from the capital of Almaty. The title echoes the disparaging nickname of the protagonist, Mustafa, a ruminative teenage delinquent. Embodied by a 15-year-old orphan and non-pro, Olzhas Nussuppaev, the character is introduced while being examined in a clinic by a doctor whose services are paid in farm produce by the patient’s anxious mother.

Medication for some kind of neurological disorder is prescribed. A brain scan would be feasible only in distant Almaty.

The widowed mother keeps house for a petty criminal named Sakura (Eduard Tabyschev), a flunky for a local gangster whose activities include rigged illegal boxing matches.

Under the circumstances, Mustafa demonstrates a considerable amount of precocious, cutthroat resourcefulness. Pleased at the prospect of being Sakura’s errand boy, he tries to emulate his mentor as a consort and foster dad by adopting a needy family of his own: the girlfriend and young son of a boxer who is killed in the ring.

Named Zina and Sanzhik, respectively, they reside in a tumbledown shack on a patch of barren farmland. The area is littered with bare, ruined factories, and the power grid seems to have shut down at some point, prompting thieves to strip the wires from electric towers.

As it happens, Mustafa has an uncle named Jaken who dabbles in wire-stripping. The boy persuades him to get into the fight game, where Jaken proves such a ringer that he pummels the favorite and puts both himself and the kid in mortal jeopardy with the local syndicate.

Having proved a quick study at criminal endeavor, Mustafa is forced into a showdown with the no longer chummy Sakura, who bullies him into an armed robbery but underestimates the boy’s willingness to retaliate.

What Miss Omarova seems to be sketching is a kind of Billy the Kid legend transposed to a contemporary frontier setting. Presumably, her intentions are sardonic, but the bare-bones scenario and remote culture leave a lot of uncertainty in the air. You’re never sure that you’re reading behavior and undercurrents correctly.

Maybe, instead, the weird humor — especially Olga Landina’s scrawny but opportunistic Zinka, with a hitch in her gait that recalls Walter Brennan — is meant to evoke mere lovelorn poignance. Maybe the pervasive lawlessness comes closer to being Miss Omarova’s unifying comic subject, in a morbid sort of way. And maybe she’s just scrambling to keep a feature together on slim financial and melodramatic resources.

Though not ultimately satisfying, this lowlife excursion does possess a certain ornery integrity. Both Mustafa and Miss Omarova earn some credit for survival power in treacherous surroundings.

**

TITLE: “Schizo”

RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter, occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Guka Omarova. Cinematography by Hasanbek Kydyraliyev. In Russian with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

WEB SITE: http://picturethissent.com

/pressroom/ schizo/index.html

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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