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Schizo (Shiza) (2005)
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by Collin Souter

"Note to self: Cross Kazakhstan off the list of places I want to visit."
4 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 2004 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL) Whenever someone says “Hey, I got a movie from Kazakhstan I want you to watch,” my first reaction is usually, “Who’s he? Oh. Right.” Then, I usually settle in and wonder aloud, “I know the box says 86 minutes, but I wonder how long the movie REALLY is?” Okay, look, I love foreign films and I don’t care where they come from, but sometimes I just don’t want to watch one. I didn’t want to watch “Schizo,” but I had to. Someone assigned me to do it. Guess what? I got sucked in.

The movie tells the story of a kid named Mustafa (Olzhas Nusupbaev). We first meet this 15-year old in a doctor’s office being examined for a psychological disorder. He does what he’s told, but doesn’t have the means to socialize or communicate clearly. The woman raising him--the girlfriend of his deceased father--seems at a loss with what to do about him. Her new boyfriend, Sakura (Eduard Tabyschev), on the other hand, takes an active interest in Mustafa and asks him to help recruit white-knuckle fighters to compete in illegal boxing matches.

Able to do what he’s told without investigating the magnitude of his actions, Mustafa finds a young man, Ali, who ends up losing his life in a match. As a result, the guilt-ridden Mustafa agrees to take some money given to him by the dying Ali to his girlfriend, Zinka (Olga Landina), and son Sanzhik (Kanagat Nurtay). Zinka (Olga Landina) greets Mustafa with suspicion, but once the money exchanges hands, she lets down her guard, but still not knowing the fate of her deceased boyfriend.

Okay, it’s familiar stuff, but there’s something about this character that makes it unique. From here on in, Mustafa’s actions are his own, letting his heart dictate his next decision and not someone else’s demands. We learn, as do the characters, that while Mustafa may not be a well-adjusted teenager, he does possess the ability to see through his actions, to act accordingly and, through his eyes, righteously. Within this bigger story lies another about a transformation within Mustafa’s condition.

Almaty, Kazakhstan is a dreary, desolate place, but first-time director Guka Omarova manages to breathe a slight sense of optimism into “Schizo.” The center of the movie ends up being Mustafa’s relationship with Zinka and, most notably, her six-year old son, Sanzhik. To Mustafa, Zinka becomes a first love and the first thing in his world worth fighting for. To her son, Sanzhik, Mustafa ends up becoming a surrogate older brother, a playmate and an equal. In the end, “Schizo” ends up being more about an unspoken, unlikely family bond and less about one boy’s so-called psychological disorder.

I guess it helps that I can be a sucker for coming-of-age films. “Schizo” probably won’t have you thinking about the time you recruited a boxer only to see him get killed in the ring, nor will it leave you thinking about the time you fell in love with his girlfriend, but the beauty of movies such as this is that we can somehow relate to Mustafa in spite of his predicament. The key to the success of this kind of movie lies in the ability of the filmmakers to put us inside his head. I felt I knew this character pretty well even though I didn’t always like him. I don’t always enjoy Kazakhstani films either, but there you go.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this review can also be found in the 2004 Chicago International Film Festival guidebook, also written by Collin Souter.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10577&reviewer=233
originally posted: 10/27/04 23:30:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/05/06 Bobby Armock It was fabulous 5 stars
1/12/06 Gary Carden Oddly reaffirming view of a young man's moral compass 4 stars
3/30/05 MsDandy Interesting film. To me, it started slow but pulled me in. 4 stars
9/25/04 Cyrill Very interesting movie that shows lifes of ordinary people in 1990 in Kazakhstan 4 stars
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  18-Mar-2005 (NR)
  DVD: 13-Sep-2005



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