Under the bright blue sky of Kazakhstan lives Mustafa, a 15 year old boy who has trouble in school due to behavioural problems. We meet him for the first time when he’s at a medical check up together with his worried mother. The doctor – who by the way seems much more concerned about his own health than anyone elses – prescribes some pills to the boy. We might assume them being Ritalin, and the diagnosis, ADHD, even though it’s not explicitly stated. His nickname isn’t Schiza (Russian for Schizo) for anything.
Schiza lives together with his mom and her egotistical boyfriend in a poor village not too far from Almaty. The boyfriend is involved in arranging illegal bare knuckled fights for the local Russian mob, and when his stepson finds himself unwanted at school, he steps in as Schiza’s new employer. Schiza is as subdued and quiet as the vast spectacular landscapes of Kazakhstan. Even though much of the film’s storyline is full of gangsters, Russian mafia, robberies and arranged death fights, the film keeps to its laconic and suppressed mood. One of the best scenes of the film is a stick-up in which Schiza is forced to participate in an exchange booth in Almaty. He walks calmly to the counter, points the gun at the clerk and asks for the money. As he stands there, another customer arrives on the scene. Instead of panicking, Schiza casually remarks to the man that the booth is out of money, so it’s no use waiting in line. And when he’s got all the money, he doesn’t run away; no, he slowly walks toward a fruit merchant nearby and buys his favourite fruit, apples. He can certainly afford them now. Schizo.
In a way, this film is a classic coming-of-age story. We follow Schiza as he is confronted with violence, his sexuality and his adulthood for the first time. I liked the way that his tough and hard sides are apparently seen by everyone except the audience, and how he himself seems totally indifferent to how other people see him. We see a vulnerable boy trapped in an environment that will sooner rather than later bring him down. And somehow it’s also only us, the audience, that really regrets that fact. We’re the only one that understands Schiza.
The depiction of the particular way of life in Kazakhstan is done with subtlety and a great flair for fascinating details. Schiza’s uncle lives in a spectacular, but runned down house situated on top of a weird old iron construction. He earns his living by stealing power lines and selling them illegally to metal merchants. In this way, he is making his own small contribution to the continuing de-modernization process of Kazakhstan. But the film ends on a positive note so maybe there is hope for Kazakhstan and Schiza. God knows they both deserve it.
© FIPRESCI 2004