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REVIEW: "THE ROAD MOVIE" ON VOD
"The Road Movie" is not a movie, in any traditional sense. "Director" Dimitrii Kalashnikov has compiled the film exclusively from found videos shot by Russian dashboard cameras, and he has assembled them here in no straight-forward or coherent order. There are times when he groups together clips with a certain theme - natural disasters, say, or accidents involving snowy or icy roads - but there are other times when these moments will come in standalone fashion, bookended by collisions involving animals, street fights and random acts of mental illness or stupidity. Watching the full 70 minutes of the film is an exhausting and frustrating experience, punctuated by moments of dread and horror.
I say "frustrating" because I'm not sure what the viewer is meant to take from this experience. Every now and again, Kalashnikov almost appears to demonstrate some kind of directorial intent. He allows shots to linger after car accidents, when all we can hear are the moans of the injured, the music on the radio and the sounds of witnesses scrambling to help. Is the film pointing out the way that external life goes on even after our own experiences are tragically cut short? About how the most eventful day of your life is just another Tuesday to everyone else around you?
At times, "The Road Movie" will cut to a video where nothing shocking happens - two or three unseen Russian people are simply conversing about something or other, and it's captured for posterity on their dashcam, so we get to listen in on it. There's a certain peacefulness to these scenes, and it's passingly interesting to see a random unidentified stretch of road in a foreign country, but what to make of them? Are they just palate cleansers before the next 12-car pile-up? Is the movie saying something about the Russian character, trying to give us a sense of the everyday life of people in this vast wilderness half a world away? But then why so many shots of people being hurt, or random urban chaos? (The film depicts Russia as a kind of lawless frontier full of daredevil eccentrics.)
Which brings me to my final question: How is "The Road Movie" legal for distributors Oscilloscope Laboratories to release on an unsuspecting public? I don't actually think I'm being super-dramatic when I call this a snuff film. (Richard Brody in The New Yorker agrees with me.) Because we're looking at all this horror from a fixed dashboard-mounted perspective, this is not a GORY film. In fact, I don't really think you ever see the aftermath of any of the films numerous violent incidents. But it's CLEAR from the intensity of some of these scenes that people (and sometimes animals) were hurt, or even killed. (Just look at that GIF!) And there's more than ample audio of people being terrified and traumatized. It's tough to listen to.
And sure, sometimes non-fiction films do present us with things that are tough to listen to, but we go through it because we hope to gain some insight or information or perspective from the experience. Is there anything to be gained from hearing unfortunate Russian people who were hurt in car accidents in "The Road Movie"? I'm strongly tempted to say there is not.
I'll be honest - this experience shook me up a bit. I saw the trailers for "The Road Movie" and assumed it would be more fun and freewheeling, curated to focus on moments of danger and serendipity rather than terror and death. The film does feature some accidentally captured scenes of surprise or beauty that are compelling and worth watching. Two strangers pull over to the side of the road to marvel at what looked like a comet crashing to Earth. A frustrated man rants at the bear in the road who's keeping him from a late night appointment. A woman finds a helpful stranger by blind luck after a distracted cab driver speeds off with her luggage.
But I can't really ask you to wade through an hour of foreign-language "Blood on the Asphalt" just to get to that stuff. It's not worth it, and I'm not sure how much Xanax you keep in the house.