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Originally published Friday, April 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Schizo": Light shines on the darkness of a little-seen landscape

Guka Omarova's tough, pared-down drama "Schizo" could be described as a coming-of-age story, except that the boy at its center, a 14-year-old...

Seattle Times movie critic

Guka Omarova's tough, pared-down drama "Schizo" could be described as a coming-of-age story, except that the boy at its center, a 14-year-old nicknamed Schizo (played by Olzhas Nusuppaev), has already grown up too fast. Living in poverty with his single mother (Gulnara Jeralieva) in ravaged early-'90s Kazakstan, Schizo already has the dead-eyed stare and hardened demeanor typical of the men who waft in and out of his life.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 2.5 stars

"Schizo," with Olzhas Nusuppaev, Eduard Tabyschev, Olga Landina, Kanagat Nurtay. Directed by Guka Omarova, from a screenplay by Omarova and Sergey Bodrov. 86 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains violence). In Russian with English subtitles. Varsity, through Thursday.

Bored and restless, he's drawn — by his mother's current boyfriend (Eduard Tabyschev) — into a seedy world of underground boxing, where he can make a little money by lining up prospective fighters. This loosely leads to the alliance at the center of the movie: with lonely Zina (Olga Landina), the girlfriend of a man who dies in the boxing ring. Schizo delivers money to Zina upon the man's death and is drawn to her small son (Kanagat Nurtay, charmingly natural on camera) and her breezy high spirits. They create an odd but happy trio — until the need for money, and the bleak options available, create disaster.

Shooting on a landscape so barren that color seems unthinkable, Omarova finds some poignancy in this story, particularly when Landina is on screen: She's freckled and fiery, like a young Sissy Spacek, and her presence boosts the performance of deadpan first-timer Nusuppaev, who visibly lightens when he's around her.

The poverty of these characters is startling: Schizo's timid mother pays the doctor with sour cream and eggs; everyone lives in rickety, makeshift homes, with grime on the walls and bugs crawling on the tables.

Ultimately, the movie can't quite sustain its mood. Nusuppaev simply isn't skilled enough to bring us along on Schizo's journey, and Omarova's sense of pace is uneven (particularly the long, unrelieved scenes at the boxing arena). But it's still an intriguing visit to a little-seen world — another example of cinema lighting up a previously dark corner.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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