Rated NR 2005

As revealed by first-time director Guka Omarova, the semi-liberated republic of Kazakhstan is a collection of desolate farmlands, filthy coal yards, and abandoned building projects. It's also a lawless frontier where brutes prevail and the innocent are routinely murdered. Think Deadwood with vodka. This is the world where the solemn, dark-eyed title character (played by an uncommonly expressive 15-year-old named Olzhas Nussuppaev, whom the filmmakers found in an orphanage) must learn to survive. He does so by recruiting fighters for an unbelievably vicious, mutant form of boxing (clearly, a metaphor for Kazakh society itself); in the process, this man-child develops resourcefulness and, miracle of miracles, discovers his humanity. With Olga Landina as the older woman he befriends -- and falls for. Here is strong stuff, ably made.

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