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Central Asian Indie Wastes Post-Apocalyptic Landscape

A modest, formulaic day trip from Kazakhstan, produced and co-written by Russian mainstreamer Sergei Bodrov, Schizo observes the placid coming-of-age of a teen (Olzhas Nusuppaev), bearing the titular nickname and a seemingly misdiagnosed illness, through the hinterlands of semi-industrialized crime and poverty. Protagonists of international indies following this template tend to be passive to the point of dead-houseplant dull, and Guka Omarova's hero is no exception—as if the fashioning of a lively personality for the poor kid would've been too much bother. As it is, Schizo meets his deficit of life options by trailing his mother's roguish boyfriend into petty crime and illegal fistfights. It's here, amid the obligatory, spittle-flecked Russian mobsters, that Schizo watches a bloodied boxer die (seemingly of boredom), and delivers his earnings to an older woman (Olga Landina) on the town outskirts, with whom he begins to dally.

Omarova's film is full of lazy padding (walks on the beach, staring out of windows), but she has a decrepitly beautiful, nearly post-apocalyptic Soviet-scrap landscape to roam through, littered with rusting machinery and stray dogs and monstrous public works decaying into the earth. Unfortunately, Schizo's familiar trials could have, and have, played out anywhere else. Some Central Asian movie could put this dead-empire-skeleton geography to use as a spectacularly metaphoric film set, but we haven't seen it happen yet. MICHAEL ATKINSON


CANADIAN FRONT
March 16 through 23,
MOMA
The state of decay: Nusuppaev
photo: Picture This! Entertainment
The state of decay: Nusuppaev

Judging from MOMA's second annual salute to the Great White North, you'd think there's an explosion of lurid homegrown entertainment bombarding Canada's multiplexes. While it might be desirable for Canadians to project the image that they're making hipper films for savvy audiences, these audiences by and large ignore them. This nine-film, geographically representative (and culturally disrepresentative) sample shows genre efforts with twists, and a multicultural society still grasping at its identity.

Taking Cronenberg's horror out of the body and grafting it onto the skin, the Rabid-alluding La Peau Blanche (White Skin) deals with Quebecois racism mostly by proxy, focusing on a Montreal succubus and the country boy who loves her, despite her predilection for human flesh and his aversion to pale-skinned redheads. Race is matter-of-fact in Noam Gonick's Stryker, which follows a mute arsonist off the reservation and onto North Winnipeg's mean streets. An Ed Lachman-shot gangbanger between Filipinos and natives, Stryker plays like a Fukasaku film with male strippers-turned-thugs and tranny crack whores: Take that as you will.

Regurgitated from the headlines of a notorious case of a juror who slept with a murder defendant, Bruce McDonald's shameless The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess is literally an explosion of genres. The fitfully amusing Phil the Alien has actor-director Rob Stefaniuk's visitor from outer space—another metaphor for multiculturalism—crash-landing in white-trash northern Ontario and going on an alcohol-fueled bender.

Canadian Front launches with its blandest offering, Ruba Nadda's Sabah—a culture-clash romance with Arsinée Khanjian ably meeking herself up as the titular Syrian-Canadian old maid. But the series' highlight comes in Caroline Martel's The Phantom of the Operator. A haunting oral history of old-time female telephone operators culled from found industrial films, it's the kind of intelligent and dedicated work that will live on for much longer than the flavors of the moment. MARK PERANSON


FACE
Directed by Bertha Bay-Sa Pan
Indican, opens March 18, Village East

Set in immigrant New York, Face (2002) treads the somewhat familiar ground of culture clashes affecting three generations of Chinese women. The leads in Bertha Bay-Sa Pan's expanded 1997 student film give sympathetic performances, and the director renders the family's Queens and downtown nabes with warm detail. Bai Ling plays a young girl victimized not only by an acquaintance rape that leaves her pregnant but by the strict community codes that obligate her to marry the father. When she ditches her baby with Mom (Kieu Chinh) and splits for Hong Kong, the film jumps a decade and focuses on the teen romance of her hip-hop rebel daughter (sexy, convincingly willful Kristy Wu) and the off-limits black DJ boyfriend (a low-key Treach) whose existence eventually sparks a dustup with traditionalist Grandma. As the loving but intransigent matriarch, Chinh pitches some great fits; her scenes with scowly Wu and smoldering Ling are the strongest moments. But as the soundtrack pulses with that kind of spoken-word trip-hop that instantly pegs it to the year of its origin (the characters still use pagers too), the movie never really finds a fresh groove. LAURA SINAGRA


THE FLOWER THIEF
Written and directed by Ron Rice
March 18 through 24, Anthology

In Ron Rice's baggy-pantsed beatnik artifact The Flower Thief (1960), Warhol superstar in training Taylor Mead traipses with elfin glee through a lost San Francisco of smoke-stuffed North Beach cafés, oceanside fairgrounds, and collapsed post-industrial ruins. Boinging along an improvised picaresque up and down the city's hills, Mead teases playground schoolkids, sniffs wildflowers, gets abducted by cowboys in the park, and has a tea party on a pile of rubble with a potbellied bathing beauty. Rice captures his antics on gravelly black-and-white 16mm (reportedly army surplus aerial-machine-gun camera stock), setting the near nonsensical whole to a serenade of classical kitsch. According to Anthology staffers, this print restores dialogue on the audio collage soundtrack that had long been muffled.

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