Cover your eyes and weep for your soul. Here comes Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s horror show of exploitative chutzpah, a seventy-minute feature consisting of nothing but incidents recorded by the dashcams of Russian motorists. In The Road Movie, there are wipeouts and head-ons, semis barreling down in the wrong lane and trams losing power and sliding straight into traffic; livestock flipped by speeding drivers; and a viciously troubled young man who climbs onto a young woman’s hood to bang his fists on her windshield. The mayhem is hypnotic, scabrous, scarifying, unpredictable, astonishing, dispiriting, repetitious, clearly both amoral and immoral, and by the end, a little dull. Even over the short running time, you can feel your humanity’s diminishment. It’s not bloody, exactly, but you — like the drivers of the cars we peer out of — will spend many minutes here waiting, in pained awe, as we regard crumpled vehicles, “Is that driver dead?”
What’s interesting, here, besides the disquieting fact of the movie’s existence and profitability, is the glimpses it offers into everyday Russian life. You’re never more yourself than when you’re driving a car, and the chatter we hear before all hell breaks loose often proves fascinating. (So does the Russian pop music the drivers have chosen.) Of course, anytime you see ten or twenty seconds of uninterrupted, incident-free driving here, you will tense up, possibly gripped by a panicked sense-memory. All through the movie, as the unseen drivers hurtled along, I found myself pumping phantom brakes. Some especially memorable miles find us plunged with the drivers into smoke that obscures the road, including a trip past the hellmouth of a forest fire, the sky a pinkish purple and the flames edging to the roadside. My favorite clip, one I’d watch again and again on YouTube, finds a pair of dudes hilariously blase about taking a corner too fast, vaulting over a guardrail, and plunging into a creek. “Fuck, we’ve arrived,” says one. “We are sailing,” pronounces the other.
Incidents of road rage are especially upsetting, though one, involving a driver’s casual brandishing of a sledgehammer, is staged better than any director of comedy could manage. Occasionally, there’s even mysterious beauty, like the apparent meteor that streaks across the sky, baffling a pair of drivers. It’s a relief when something simply weird occurs, like the military tank we see driven to a car wash. You know, for a couple of moments, you’ll be relieved from wondering whether you’ll soon be jolted by a possible death.
The Road Movie
Directed by Dmitrii Kalashnikov
Opens January 19, AMC Empire 25
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 18, 2018