Reviewed by: Stephanie Brown

"The stories within the film are deeply in tune with its tone, a mix of pensiveness, euphoria, melancholy and intrigue." | Photo: Courtesy of Karlovy Vary Film Festival

Tea Lukac’s docufiction film, which recently premiered at Karlovy Vary, captures the lives, stories and perceptions of a series of passengers in the town of Dvor in the Banija region of Croatia. The film radiantly expresses the stories shared by each traveller, personified by the transfixing cinematography of the paradisiacal and fragile panoramas of the woodlands outside the window.

Passengers inside a moving car, cruising along the roads adjacent to the vast forest that travels with them, reveal a part of themselves in the back seat - as the weather, time and camerawork offer a new angle and perception of the nature nearby. The passengers vary from four kids in costume returning from a carnival party, where topics range from confectionary, school, and drunk adults; two women and their battle with a local petition to fight the storage of nuclear waste; a woman’s past experiences with abuse and poverty; a folk band of four sharing songs; an older man’s memory of a hornet attack that almost killed him in his youth; a lone passenger on his phone; and a bag of shopping.

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The film is shot beautifully, with each journey shot in a continuous loop, stopping only for breathtaking shots of the woodlands. The camera hovers over the leaves and branches as they rattle through storms, catching droplets of rain and open up to a wider vista holding focus on the partial eclipse of sun-rays from behind the trees. What seems at first like an organic aesthetical revision of Jarmusch’s Night On Earth, or a documentary set out to encapsulate stories of cultural, or ethic family history and ancestry from its title, instead focuses on individual and contingent experiences that establish our sense of self.

Roots’ structure is very poignant, moving through a mostly linear narrative of age, beginning with childlike curiosity and naivety, to the wisdom that comes with ageing. Perhaps the woodland and title operate at a much higher symbolic level, where the roots themselves represent the beginning of ideas and observations, and the branches which stem other branches and leaves symbolise the correspondence between experiences and connections that inform our theories of the world. Maybe it’s not that deep at all and the film simply wants to place the natural world alongside mankind, both conditioned to face periods of peace and brutality.

The stories within the film are deeply in tune with its tone, a mix of pensiveness, euphoria, melancholy and intrigue. There’s an emotive quality to Roots, without telling the viewer what to feel, allowing them to evoke their own responses to the simple yet philosophically open-ended narrative. The story of the middle-aged woman’s escape from a depraved part of her life and the everlasting love and pride for her adult children, to the man who nostalgically recalls how he managed to survive an unsurvivable hornet attack that would later protect him from a flu pandemic, captures the turbulence of existence that coexists with woodland life. There are also moments of silence, with one passenger sitting on his phone, to the bag of food shopping on its own, suggesting that stories do not need to be vocalised to exist - to the origin of the banana in the bag, to the man’s texts on a hidden screen.

Roots is a stunning film that invites its viewership into its gallery of humanity, nature and metaphysical wonder. It is a film that transcends the smallest and largest properties of human life with an enigmatic flair and a delicate touch. While many will spend a lot of the time dissecting each moment to try and conjure a larger meaning to the intoxicating cinematography, it may be an experience that is best left under-analysed, before we miss its larger purpose.

Reviewed on: 17 Sep 2021
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Passengers travelling around the small town of Dvor that looks onto a vast forest, share different fragments of their lives, past and present.


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