, February 27, 2007
(view all comments by Grady Harp)
Seeking and Finding Meaning in the Midst of Bleakness
SCHIZO (now being re-relased as THE RECRUITER) 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