Arts & Entertainment

April 8, 2005

Volume 33,
Issue 14

Tue, Feb 09, 2016


Opening Friday at The Varsity
Opening Friday at The Varsity: Schizo and Eros
by Derich Mantonela - SGN A&E Writer

Schizo — This little gem gets Kazakh exactly right

What’s the world’s largest landlocked (no seacoast) country (it’s nearly four times bigger than Texas)? The answer to that question—one of the toughest in all of trivia—Kazakh, is also the locale of Schizo, a gem of a film by first-time Kazakh director Gulshat Omarova (a woman), who co-wrote the script with Sergei Bodruv (director/writer of the brilliant Prisoner of The Mountains).

Kazakh itself—a vast, arid, impoverished, surreally haunted landscape in the heart of what used to be the Soviet Union—is as much the central character of Schizo as is the 15-year-old boy Mustapha (Oldzhas Nusuppayev) whose brooding, taciturn character earns him the nickname which is the film’s title (it has also been shown in North American under the title of Fifty-Fifty).

Thought to be “disturbed” or perhaps mildly retarded, he’s allowed to skip school and link up as a gofer for his mother’s minor mobster boyfriend (the strikingly sexy Eduard Tabishev; he and the boy luxuriate in an outdoor shower in an early scene which drips with submerged sexuality). Their job is to help provide cannon fodder for a local mafia bigshot’s illegal bareknuckle prizefight scams. A luxury Mercedes is offered as bait to anyone who can knock out the reigning champ, a musclebound goon, against whom the financially desperate local yokels don’t have a chance. Mustapha recruits his own uncle, a wizened, wiry ex-street fighter who kayos the goon, claims the Mercedes, and thus brings down the wrath of the big boss on the boy and his older buddy. The brutal fight scenes, by the way, seem very real.

Schizo finds love, or at least puppy love, in the guise of a comely young common-law wife of one of the boxers, the latter killed and then simply discarded in the fight scam. The boxer, with his dying breath, asks Schizo to deliver his paltry fight earnings to the woman “in the shack at the edge of town.”

In Kazakh, that’s how directions go. The shack is much like Jean Arthur’s in Shane, and similarly magnificently located in a timeless obscurity of “Western” locale (Kazakh as the New Old West). Though this particular actress (Olga Landina) is a ringer for Sissy Spacek. She sexually taunts and teases the boy, as women will, arousing eternal doglike loyalty. Mustapha, in turn, becomes the object of devotion of the woman’s little son, the endearingly puppylike Kanagat Nurtay.

The all-Kazakh cast (many of them non-professionals, including the lead) in this Kazakh/France co-production (photographed, in a thrilling blend of lushness and economy, by Khasanbek Kydyralayev) excites the eye and the imagination with its exotic cross of East and West. Here are a great people, steeped in history and fable, a mix of mighty cultures, isolated in a nether world few of us will ever experience.

Set in the early Nineties, in the social and economic vacuum created by the fall of the Soviet empire, Schizo gets Kazakh exactly right: the chaos, the lawlessness, the collapse of the old economy, the desperate dance between those who grab for riches and those who fall far behind (the exploiters and the exploited, the sharks and the minnows), the cynical/fatalistic humor, the daily con required just to survive, the hugeness of the landscape. Schizo explains little of this, instead it shows us.

This almost-perfect movie is slightly flawed by a tagged-on five minute “coda” in which too much is tidied up, too neatly. Clip off that ending and call it a masterpiece.

Eros — A sex trilogy by three famous directors, two of whom bomb

Give three famous directors (Wong Kar-Wai, Stephen Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni) each free reign to direct/write a shortish (novella-length?) film about sex, slap them together back to back to back and call it Eros? Nothing wrong with the idea itself, but plenty wrong when two of the three fumble the opportunity. Only Wong’s The Hand is a good movie, and it is a very good one indeed. Soderbergh’s Equilibrium is a one-joke idea, or one-idea joke, and Antonioni’s The Dangerous Thread of Things has no idea at all, just some naked women flinging themselves around like nudist Isadora Duncans.

The Hand

Wong returns to a subject matter which suits him stylistically and emotionally, unrequited love, in this elegant, introspective, erotically bittersweet masterpiece about a shy, sensitive, sexually repressed tailor in 1960s Hong Kong who, over a period of several years, is in love with an older female prostitute (the radiant Gong Li) for whom he creates beautiful outfits while never allowing himself to fully proclaim his feelings to her. Redolent of Wong’s great In The Mood For Love which was also photographed by the inimitable Chris Doyle, The Hand is reason, all by itself, to see Eros (and it is conveniently the first of the three films, if you want to bail out on the other two).


Soderbergh is in one of his silly, playful modes here (see Schizopolos) but he can’t seem to decide whether to carry it to extremes, like farce, or to leave it as a one-joke semi-intellectual running gag. The gimmick here is the shrink (Alan Arkin, sweetly devilish) who, while his patient (Robert Downey, Jr., cheerfully hammy as usual) recounts his “recurring sexual dream” (which, alas, isn’t very sexy) is madly signally behind his client’s back to someone outside his window to come see him. This goes on. And on. And on. Pretty funny, huh. Huh?

The Dangerous Thread of Things

Antonionio apparently has really lost it, if this is any clue. Psuedo-artsy pretentiousness fails here to cover up his (evidently newly-liberated) lust for naked women cavorting about as in some Sixties “underground” smoker. What is it about these old Italian directors who seem compelled to reveal their adolescent sexual fantasies in front of us? Repressed in youth, liberated in later life, we can be grateful that their repression was, in those earlier years, sublimated into art, into fine filmmaking. So perhaps we should forgive them for becoming fools (as sex makes all of us into) in their twilight.

Leslie Robinson

Madelyn Arnold