Film Review: Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s “The Road Movie”

Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s gonzo travelogue “The Road Movie” – which could be alternatively titled “Russians Do the Darndest Things” – has a simple yet brutally effective premise. It’s an edited compilation of dashboard camera footage shot all around Russia, posted by users on YouTube and other websites, and put together by Kalashnikov in a way that mimics a year’s seasonal cycle. (Dashboard cameras have become especially ubiquitous in Russia and eastern Europe in recent years as a way to provide evidence of both insurance claims and corruption by authorities.) In this found footage, there is all manner of human behavior, and all sorts of humor and horror, including, of course, many vehicle crashes. “The Road Movie” affords viewers a way of peering into Russia’s collective psyche, especially the stoicism, often unnerving calm, and profane humor in the face of the most extreme, bizarre circumstances. This makes for a viewer experience at turns hilarious, suspenseful and disturbing.

Early on, there’s the arresting sight of a meteor hurtling through the sky, with the amazed commentary of the car’s passengers witnessing this. The rest of what is in the view of the cameras as the film progresses, however, is much more down to earth. The treacherousness of winter driving is afforded much screen time. In one scene, a driver very narrowly avoids a collision with cars up ahead on the highway due to faulty brakes. In a later scene, another driver is not so lucky: a head-on collision with another car causes an airbag to fill the screen as a woman says that her leg is broken.

Road rage, unsurprisingly, is prominently featured, including a knock-down brawl between two men, and other scenes with men wielding a sledgehammer and a loaded pistol. Odder and less violent sights include: a cow miraculously getting up and walking away from a car’s direct hit; a bear running from a car; an army tank casually making use of a car wash; men haggling with prostitutes over pricing and services; a drive through a forest fire; two presumably drunk men sailing off an overpass and plunging into water (“We’re sailing!”); and a woman setting fire to a gas station.

Though “The Road Movie” doesn’t quite shake its exploitative air or its somewhat generic feel (a similar film could have been made almost anywhere), it does potently remind us how human experience nowadays – with social media-generated obsessive over-sharing and pervasive self-surveillance – has become just fodder for online content, competing for attention and view counts.

“The Road Movie” is now playing in U.S. theaters. For more information, playdates, and venues across the U.S., visit distributor Oscilloscope’s website.