'The Road Movie'
If there’s any sort of message to be taken from director Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s utterly unique documentary ‘The Road Movie’, it’s that life is lived in constant expectation of disaster. (Well, that and the apparent truth that driving in Russia is a nightmare game of life and death).
Through an incredibly simple but hugely entertaining form and technique, Kalashnikov’s film shows the lows of humanity and car travel through a 67-minute true life demolition derby that is unlike any film before it and almost inexplicably intoxicating.
The deliberately generic title ‘The Road Movie’ gives a sense of what to expect, while also giving nothing away. Kalashnikov’s doc is a feature length (juuuuussst barely) compilation of dashboard cam footage taken on the roads of Russia. Obviously, it’s not a collection of images of responsible drivers enjoying drama-free commutes. Instead, it’s a horrific montage of crashes, road rage, disasters and oddities that you can’t peel your eyes away from. An old movie criticism cliché compares the appeal of painful films to seeing a car wreck on the highway and being unable to look away. ‘The Road Movie’ is literally that and proves that the old adage (which I’ve certainly indulged in myself) is all too true.
Apparently, a vast collection of drivers in Russia use dashboard cameras, not just the police. Based purely on ‘The Road Movie’, it’s all too easy to see why that’s the case. Those roads are insanity. The footage that Kalashnikov assembles is absolutely unbelievable. Some highlights include a truck crash where the driver is somehow flung through the windshield and lands on his feet, road rage involving a driver firing a handgun, road rage involving therapeutic sledge hammer smashing, a presumably insane man leaping onto some poor woman’s hood and banging his head onto the windshield while she screams and drives on, a woman using a lighter to see how much gas she pumped with predictably explosive results, and so much more. There’s a comet sighting and lightning striking to add to the apocalyptic vibe. Everything you could imagine and a few things not even the most creatively deranged mind could think up is here. Sometimes, Kalashnikov has fun compiling montages (like one darkly funny sequence of highway crashes cut to goofy music), but for the most part he just lets the footage speak for itself. He doesn’t have to spice it up. The found footage is just that compelling.
When the credits roll, it’s reasonable to ask what all this means. Some may consider the film a cynical exploration of the apocalyptic world we live in, where disaster is always waiting to strike. Some many consider it an ode to pure cinema, the artistic medium most suited to depicting car chases and crashes. Others may get introspective and wonder what it says about viewers who find themselves compelled to watch this sort of material. (Some notes in the end credits indicate how many views the most popular footage garnered on YouTube, which adds to that reading.)
Perhaps admirably and perhaps frustratingly, director Kalashnikov doesn’t lead viewers toward any particular conclusion or thesis. Maybe that’s the most unsettling take of all. This destruction and tragedy is meaningless, obscenely common, and plays like gangbusters entertainment to anyone who can watch it from the safe distance of a screen. No matter what you take away from ‘The Road Movie’, it’s one of the most unsettling, darkly amusing, and unforgettable documentaries to come along in quite some time. You cannot take your eyes off this flick.