The Road Movie


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Road Movie
"All of life is here, with heroes and villains and opportunists and people who can't even work out where the camera is supposed to go."

If one asks people about the most dramatic experiences they have had in life, among the most common things they bring up are car crashes. Sudden, unexpected violence can leave a lifelong impression even if no serious injuries occur as a result. We are frightened by such experiences but we are also excited, fascinated. If you've ever been tempted to slow down beside the scene of such an incident even when there was no need for you to stop and help, you can now watch a whole series of them, without any of the social awkwardness involved, in Dmitrii Kalashnikov's documentary.

To call it his documentary might seem to be pushing things a bit. He didn't direct the action here, but he did identify it and edit it together brilliantly. It was originally shot by simple dashboard cameras looking through the windscreens of cars all around the Russian Federation. With 20 serious accidents taking place daily in Moscow alone, these cameras have become essential, often the only way of convincing insurance companies of what happened. Although they don't all offer great resolution, the footage assembled here mostly looks remarkably good, in part because a lot of it has been shot in snowy conditions with a lot of reflected light to illuminate the action.

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It's not all the kind of action you might expect. The crashes are there, all right - sometimes simple, spliced together to break up a series of longer scenes - sometimes spectacular, with scenes of lorries turning over sideways and endless near misses. Just as when one is driving, it's easy to be lulled into relaxation by long scenic roads or distracted by what other vehicles are doing, only to be suddenly impacted by a car coming out of nowhere. This is a film ideally watched with one's face at the same distance from the screen as when driving - because it's such an easy experience to identify with, the effect is visceral.

In and around these scenes is a rich tapestry of experiences of life on the road. Voices are captured on the camera's audio, often gossiping about personal matters, little snapshots of people's lives. Incidents of road rage capture reactions when other drivers get out of their vehicles wielding hammers or guns. A determined young woman uses her vehicle to block the escape of a car police are chasing, despite pleas from her passengers to back off. A man steals sausages from the back of a van. An angry stranger jumps onto the bonnet of a woman's car and refuses to climb down. A car trapped between snowbanks on a narrow road is charged by horses. There's even an incident that might be a scam or might be the start of a romance.

The number and diversity of these incidents, and the reactions of the witnesses, imbues the film with personality. There's much about it that is distinctly Russian but it will have international appeal. All of life is here, with heroes and villains and opportunists and people who can't even work out where the camera is supposed to go. Even the Chelyabinsk meteorite of 2013 makes an appearance, blazing across the sky as a driver and his passenger try to figure out what it could be. That neither suggests a missile speaks volumes about changes here and in the West.

For all that it's assembled from scraps off the internet, The Road Movie has all the thrills, spills and drama you could ask for in a Saturday night's entertainment. From start to finish, it's a great ride.

Reviewed on: 16 Jan 2018
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A documentary comprised entirely of dashboard camera footage from Russian cars.

Director: Dmitrii Kalashnikov

Year: 2016

Runtime: 67 minutes

Country: Belarus


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