What this film seems to illustrate is that an irrepressible story has the
power to overcome primitive filmmaking. Poorly shot (presumably on
35mm), crudely designed and edited, amateurishly acted, still director
Gulshat Omarova's central figure (Olzhas Nusuppaev) stirs and maintains our
interest as though the tale were an American classic like "Shane."
The privations and alienations of a hostile, depressed territory is the
setting for a personal coming-of-age yarn about Schizo, a 15-year old boy
who is taken under the wing of Sakura (Eduard Tabishev), a leather wearing
biker, boxing entrepreneur and his mother's lover. Sakura introduces the
quiet teenager to the world of opportunistic boxing where the rule is no
rules. In learning how it works -- finding able bodied men who will put up a
decent fight for the sake of betting and a sizable house-take -- Schizo (a
nickname, short for a probably false diagnosis as a schizophrenic) also shows
a capacity to exploit the shady enterprise for his personal values.
In this Kazakhstan ring, opponents square off without gloves. Winning is a
matter of bringing the man in the ring with you to the canvas and proving his
defeat by your ability to pound him without mercy to demonstrate that he's
utterly defenseless. Forget about referees. The beating that's administered
in these final seconds of the fight until the crowd sees blood and thereby
has no doubt about who won, can and does produce fatal injuries.
At this point, it seems that impressionable Schizo is going to fall prey to
bad influences. But we will soon find out that he not only has a mind of his
own, but an entire ethic. Against expectations, his inclination is to do
what he perceives to be the right thing in cases of limited options that will
satisfy his imperturbable sense of justice.
When Schizo recognizes that no one is calling a doctor for the seriously
beaten loser of the first fight he witnesses, he goes against Sakura's advice
and comforts the dying man. Just before expiring, the man asks Schizo if he
knows a certain house. Nodding that he does, the man asks the only person
showing him some mercy to take his share of the prize money from his pocket
and bring it to that house for his son and crippled girlfriend Zinka (Olga
In an environment of cheating and crassness, Schizo shows his better nature
by following through on his promise to the dead fighter. For his selfless
use of money, he's paid off with an unexpected purpose in life and the
rewards of an emotional maturity as precocious as it is unexpected.
Despite the awkwardness of amateur acting and primitive technique, elements
that can easily cause a film with much to offer to be unjustly underrated and
ignored, director Omarova brings true storytelling credentials to her film
and a firm ability to keep her sensitive eye on the essentials of character and
drama. Nusuppaev, a real-life orphan, is deceptively purposeful as he takes
us on his unpredictable path -- one that contrasts his decency in an
ex-Soviet satellite society where such character is a standout and a
phenomenon. This nature against nurture drama may be the most hopeful (for
the better side of human nature) on the planet this year.
~~ Jules Brenner