It’s difficult not to simply dismiss The Road Movie as an extended YouTube compilation video, trussed up and displayed as a feature film. The 72-minute film is comprised entirely of videos shot on Russian car dashboard cameras (dash cams). These cheap, small cameras are popular around to world for proving fault in auto accidents, but they also capture some crazy events. With no narrative, The Road Movie feels more like a Faces of Death (1978) film, sans gore. However, despite its humble origins, The Road Movie is a charming and entertaining look at life in Russia.
While there are millions of dash cam videos available to watch online, The Road Movie’s creators compiled the best of the best. The editing is breezy and often nuanced, linking together clips to get a better reaction. Director and editor Dmitrii Kalashnikov knows when to let clips run long, teasing out our expectations. There are many moments where cars simply ride down highways and the viewer can listen in on the conversations in the car. The way Kalashnikov lets these chats play out, we as viewers never know if we’re supposed to pay attention to the conversation or the road. Often, the road makes us pay attention, with all kinds of jolts ranging from car accidents to comets.
There’s a palpable sense of dread watching the longer sequences, in not knowing what could happen next. The fact that these are real videos, and that there are probably some genuine deaths captured digitally, makes the whole viewing that much more uneasy. The crashes themselves can be difficult to watch, though the cameras never capture much in the way of aftermath. We see a great deal of twisted metal, but there’s not much in the way of blood or gore. The crashes themselves are violent enough, and hearing the audio from both crashed cars and the cars of witnesses is bone-chilling. After one particularly bad crash, a man repeatedly tries to calm his wife, whom he calls “Sunshine”. These brief moments of humanity, even in times of terror, are what center the film.
There are plenty of viewers who will watch The Road Movie for the crashes, and for the various wacky surprises in store. Russia is a near-mythical place to some, a country that outsiders can’t understand where life is cold and hard. It is the land of Putin and Pussy Riot, of vodka and Bond villains. There’s plenty of mythic Russian madness in The Road Movie, for sure. There’s a flaming bus, babushkas crossing in the middle of the street without a care, insane vagrants, and of course, a bear. (The bear defecates on the road and the driver shouts obscenities at him in one of the most stereotypical Russian segments).
In each of these crazy moments, the occupants of the car usually have something to say about it. A couple drives through a veritable hellscape of a forest fire whilst listening to pop music and praying that they’ll make it. A pair of men chat about the dash cams themselves in a fun meta moment. They talk about “funny shit on the internet” and all the crazy crashes they’ve seen. These conversations are a great reminder of the humanity of what we’re watching.
The Russians in The Road Movie swear about as much as one would expect, given that everyone swears more in their car. Some of the swears are great, and I found myself wishing that I spoke Russian more than once, because some things were probably lost in translation.
There are many incredible moments in The Road Movie that would be spoiled by simply listing them here. This is a film best enjoyed with others, ideally a group of friends who can laugh, scream, and gasp along with you. It’s not going to be for everyone, but for fans of shockumentaries like Faces of Death or slice-of-life fare like Life in a Day (2011), The Road Movie is a tightly-edited, exhilarating experience.
The Road Movie tours select theaters starting 19 January 2018 and will release digitally 6 March 2018.