In 2013, a recording of a meteor sighting in Russia from a car’s dashcam became a viral sensation as people began to wonder, “Do crazy things like this happen in Russia all the time?” The new documentary The Road Movie seeks out to answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!”
The Road Movie is an unconventional documentary by most standards. There are no interviews, there are no specific characters to follow, there isn’t even a coherent narrative stringing all of this footage together. The Road Movie is a compilation of dashboard camera footage recorded from cars on the streets of Russia, which capture horrific incidents from car crash, fist fights, and even the famous meteor sighting, that together paint a wider picture of the condition of Russia as a whole.
All of this seems as if it could just come across as exploiting real people getting hurt and nearly killed simply for the sake of shock value. Thankfully, The Road Movie is edited together in such a way that it never lingers on any of the more grizzly images for longer than you need to in order to understand the severity of the situation we have just witnessed. It also helps that most of the people shown to be involved with these traumatic incidents seem to be even more nonchalant and cavalier than the audiences that would be watching this film. In one predicament, a car with two passengers loses control, veers off the road, and plunges into a river. A situation that most would normally react with horror and fear, these two lucky survivors casually joke about their situation. “We’ve arrived,” one of them jokingly says. “We’re sailing”, the other exclaims as they paddle down the river. Another similar instance comes when one car drives straight across a bustling street, barrelling through guardrails, and coming to an abrupt halt right before crashing through a convenience store. The passenger lightheartedly says, “Congratulations, you’ve made it!”, despite the fact that they were just seconds away from death a few seconds ago.
In some of these instances, the indifference expressed by those involved can be quite amusing as expressed earlier, but in others, those responses can be just as disturbing as the events themselves. One instance shows a woman about to cross the street right as a truck swerves around the corner, nearly hitting her, and flipping over onto its side. The woman barely pays any mind to the truck that almost hit her which now lays sideways. She shrugs it off and continues walking along as if nothing just happened. Other such accidents are met with more hostility and violence, such as a scene where two cars are heading towards each other down a one-way street. Both cars thankfully stop in time before any potential collision happens. One of the drivers reacts by getting out of his car, opening his trunk, and pulling out a sledgehammer to threaten the other driver with. These extreme responses, however unengaged or antagonistic, all serve the purpose of showcasing the human condition in Russia, and how its citizens have been desensitized to such horrific acts as if they are everyday occurrences.
While watching horrific accidents and injuries inflicted onto real people can prove to be unnerving enough, where things could seem to get even more sickening is watching animals being put in danger. In all instances, The Road Movie does as much as it can in order to present the realities of the events that had occurred without reveling in the unpleasantness, however, it still feels excessive to have included. With that said, there is one pivotal instance involving an animal which actually manages to create a nice little narrative on its own, which also contributes to the overall view of the country and humanity as a whole.
A duck flies in front of a moving car and is severely injured. The driver gets out of the car and suggests killing the duck and bringing it home for dinner. Meanwhile, his young son sitting in the back seat pleads with him not to, and to try and find a way to help the animal. We never end up knowing what happens to that poor duck, but this brief moment is an optimistic sentiment that even when everyone seems heartless and cynical, as we have been shown over the course of the film, there’s always an innocent, kind-hearted voice advocating for moral righteousness. Even if their guidance isn’t seriously taken into consideration, those voices still do exist and are willing to speak up for what they believe is just.
Amid the wild chaos unfolding on screen, "The Road Movie" showcases the desensitized human condition in Russia
After the onslaught of chaos and insanity that we had been previously subjected to throughout the runtime, one of the final segments that we see, taken from a car in a dead-stop traffic jam, most fittingly encapsulates the full scope of the situation in Russia. In the middle of this traffic jam, we see two men get out of their cars and almost immediately start throwing punches at each other. As these two duke it out in front of us, the radio in the car is tuned to a station where a psychologist is advocating for a better education system in Russia, and for people to be less ignorant towards each other. A completely accidental, yet almost perfect juxtaposition of ideas depicting a country in disarray.
It’s hard to review The Road Movie without just talking about the specific parts that make it entertaining to watch, because there really is no coherent narrative structure that connects these recordings to each other, which at times can make it feel like it’s just a glorified Youtube compilation. With a runtime of only an hour and seven minutes, The Road Movie barely even qualifies as being feature length, which keeps it from losing its novelty or overstaying its welcome over the course of its runtime, but still feels as if it falls short of achieving more. As it is though, it’s a creative take on the traditional documentary format that still manages to be capable of bringing real issues into the public discourse, while still being a unique film-watching experience.