Cowritten by acclaimed Russian auteur Sergey Bodrov, writer-director Guka Omarova's debut is a crime drama with a few interesting twists: The hero is an adolescent boy generally, though mistakenly, thought to be mentally retarded, and the setting is the dusty desert plains of Kazakhstan. Nicknamed "Schizo" by his schoolmates, who think he's "slow," 14-year-old Mustafa (Olzhas Nussuppaev) lives with his mother, Kulyash (Gulnara Jeralieva), and her low-level hoodlum boyfriend, Sakura (Eduard Tabyschev), in a ramshackle house smackdab in the middle of nowhere. When Mustafa is kicked out of school after some classmates shove him into the girls' cloakroom, Sakura has an idea: Mustafa can come work for him. Sakura has been recruiting unemployed men from the local labor pool who, desperate for work, agree to box in an unfairly matched, no-holds-barred fight against a much stronger opponent. The outcome is always the same: The poor, inexperienced laborer is beaten to a pulp for a pittance, and Sakura and his boss, Almaz (Khorabek Musabayev), walk away with big chunks of the prize money. The trouble is that Sakura's face has become too familiar around the labor pool, and men have begun steering clear of his offers for "work," hence the need for an innocent like Mustafa to procure future fighters. An unexpected tragedy occurs when Ali, one of Mustafa's first recruits, is fatally beaten in the ring. Before dying, Ali asks Mustafa to give his prize money to his girlfriend, Zinka (Olga Landina). Pricked by guilt, Mustafa agrees, but when he finds Zinka living in a rundown house with her toddler son, Sanzhik (Kanagat Nurtay), Mustafa can't bring himself to tell her the truth, and instead tells Zinka that Ali has left town. He then sets about romancing her in his own, awkward way while cooking up a scheme behind Sakura's back, hoping it will bring in a little more money for Zinka and her son — a betrayal Sakura doesn't take lightly. The crowded labor pools, the unfinished housing blocks and the sight of Mustafa's mother trading food for medical services speak volumes about life in a country whose crippled, post-Soviet economy can no longer guarantee its citizens much of anything. A standout at a spate of recent film festivals, Omarova's film is wonderfully acted and serious-minded, but shouldn't be mistaken for snobby cineast fare. It's a gripping, understated thriller with a solid emotional undercurrent that builds to an unexpectedly moving denouement.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: Cowritten by acclaimed Russian auteur Sergey Bodrov, writer-director Guka Omarova's debut is a crime drama with a few interesting twists: The hero is an adolescent boy generally, though mistakenly, thought to be mentally retarded, and the setting is the du… (more)