Skip to main content

Review: "The Road Movie"

The "found footage" genre has been around for some time, in both fictional form (1999's The Blair Witch Project) and nonfiction form (1927's The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty). If one considers the overwhelming amount of available found footage content online, namely through social media videos that people Snap or Tweet or Facebook Live every few seconds, it becomes clear that we need to gauge this appropriated art catalog through a new cultural viewfinder. It also prompts us to ask this important question: What public imagery is worthy of being curated for studied viewing?

Russian filmmaker Dmitrii Kalashnikov's The Road Movie (distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories) is a good example of social videos being culled together to give us a surprising and thoughtful insight into how we behave and feel -- today. The Road Movie is a moving image montage that is comprised of dashboard camera footage from dozens of Russian drivers, from all walks of life. As the film opens, we witness inclement roads giving way to a treacherous possibility for a traffic accident. Our drivers and passengers endure and nervously laugh off the uncertainty of the situation. But this is just Kalashnikov setting us up for what's to come.

It's key to understand how limiting and also liberating the visual framework of The Road Movie is. You see, the dashboard camera footage always gives us the front field of view, which most of the time is of the road. Whatever happens outside the four edges of the frame is not for us to see. We can hear the voices of the driver (and the passengers he or she is riding with) of every particular section, but we mostly never see anyone. We hear ambient noises: windshield wipers, the car radio and the weather outside. Each vignette builds a curiosity and then a suspense, as we have to piece together what exactly is happening or has happened or will happen.

I won't spoil some of the big surprises, but I will mention that some of my favorite moments didn't involve any of the film's many spectacular car accidents but instead conveyed the carnality of individuals with road rage. At one moment, a man who is going down the wrong way of a one way street pulls out what looks to be a sledgehammer to scare off our driver. During another section, a drunk woman who must've ran away from a wedding reception literally runs on top of a car, starting at the front hood, in the middle of the night. It becomes clear that with each dash cam vignette Kalashnikov is cranking the escalation knob and is preparing us for another shocking real-life moment.

What does it all mean? Well, it gives us a cross-section of modern day Russia. I was surprised by how ubiquitous dash camera recording is among civilian drivers. Visual proof is the new currency of the century it would seem. It also reaffirms some unnerving universal truths for all of us. For example, during one of the film's ugly car accident moments, a mortified mother's voice can be heard from the backseat calling one of the drivers involved in the accident a "bitch" simply because she's a female teen who was driving. We're not even sure if it was the teen who's to blame, but already, the dated (and incorrect) societal stereotype of women being bad drivers is reawakened by the mother's scold. Another example dips into some voyeuristic and dirty-minded interests as we hear a few guys try to panhandle a hooker (the footage is of the dark highway road, so we never see them in this section) only to later realize they were never going to buy her services -- they were just curious about what it would cost in that area. As they drive away, they reflect with a giddiness you would hear from teenagers buying their first pack of cigarettes.

The Road Movie doesn't overstay its welcome either. Clocking in at just over an hour, it packs enough shocking action, moments of black humor and a reaffirmation of how most people are inherently good, help to make its impression indelible. Near the end of the film, as two men engage in a fist fight after one of them felt he wasn't given the right of way, we hear on the car radio a political conversation about Russian elections. The radio voices cynically muse on the idea that Russia should resort back to cannibalism and this audio is a perfect juxtaposition to the brute fisticuffs we're seeing in front of us on the turbulent highway. It's the kind of cinematic moment that you can't write or direct.

You simply have to find it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

VIDEO ESSAY: Film Fidelity: Beyoncé's "Lemonade"

Beyoncé knocked the wind out of the Internet when she dropped her nearly hour-long visual album Lemonade on HBO this past Saturday night, April 23rd. The inspired film is a remarkable piece to be sure--even for the Queen Bee herself. And while everything from the sound design to the collective creative direction from the team of filmmakers, editors and art department is exceptional, much of the receptive chatter online has instead circled around the implied infidelity that spurs the narrative of Lemonade; the idea that hubby Jay Z did Beyoncé wrong with a certain "Becky with the good hair." Which is too bad; that's the kind of fodder for tabloids and it marginalizes how much great film art is packed into this thing.
So, as a reactionary cinephile, I thought I'd redirect the public's attention to the striking images that Lemonade presents, the ideas behind them and, more pointedly, where these vignettes drew inspiration from. In contrast to the possible off-screen…

VIDEO ESSAY: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master"

"He's making all this up as he goes along."

NOTE: I was fortunate enough to attend a rare 70mm screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master on Thursday August 16, 2012 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. In attendance were writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and one of the film's actors, Kevin J. O'Connor (both of whom are pictured with mehere).


--

The key to the success of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master doesn't come in its mammoth achievement of being shot on 70mm film or its carefully constructed parallel origin story of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology practices. Rather, that success is embedded in an intimate scene: a single shot close-up on alcoholic war veteran Freddie Sutton (an unforgettable Joaquin Phoenix) during a "process of time" session with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman in prime Hubbard form). Up until this scene, the character of Freddie dutifully performed the task of delivering the film's dark lau…

The 30 Best Films of 2013

Anyone who tells you that 2013 wasn't a spectacular year for movies is either lying through their teeth or is someone who spent most of the year cooped up in their apartment watching episodic television on Netflix. Here go the 30 best films of the year.


30. Fruitvale Station - Directed by Ryan Coogler
29. Post Tenebras Lux - Directed by Carlos Reygadas
28. Side Effects - Directed by Steven Soderbergh
27. Room 237 - Directed by Rodney Ascher
26. Before Midnight - Directed by Richard Linklater
25. Lenny Cooke - Directed by Joshua and Ben Safdie
24. The Place Beyond The Pines - Directed by Derek Cianfrance
23. Blue Jasmine - Directed by Woody Allen
22. Nebraska - Directed by Alexander Payne
21. Mud - Directed by Jeff Nichols
20. Gravity - Directed Alfonso Cuarón
19. The End of Love - Directed by Mark Webber
18. American Hustle - Directed by David O. Russell
17. Inside Llewyn Davis - Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
16. Her - Directed by Spike Jonze
15. 12 Years A Slave - Directed by

Far From Heaven: Studying The Headroom In Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida"

Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida tells the quietly haunting story of a young nun named Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) who sets out to find her family origins in 1960s Poland. At the beginning of the film, the once-orphaned Anna learns that she still has one living relative: her aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), a revered court judge in the city. As Anna sets out on her journey of self-discovery, Pawlikowski, and cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, announce their visual strategy for conveying their protagonist's hopeless and essentially powerless role in the world: by dwarfing the screen figure of Anna with a maximum amount of screen headroom.

Look at how the following shot makes Anna look insignificant against the towering institution of the convent.


In the city, Anna meets her aunt Wanda and there Anna learns that her real name is Ida Lebenstein. After Wanda tells Ida of her parents' horrific death during WWII, the pair set off to find out what exactly happened and perh…

The 25 Best Films of 2014

Under The Skin - Directed by Jonathan GlazerWhiplash - Directed by Damien ChazelleSelma - Directed by Ava DuVernayJoe - Directed by David Gordon GreenA Most Violent Year - Directed by J.C. ChandorThe Immigrant - Directed by James GrayGoodbye To Language - Directed by Jean-Luc GodardInterstellar - Directed by Christopher NolanInherent Vice - Directed by Paul Thomas AndersonNightcrawler - Directed by Dan GilroyBirdman - Directed by Alejandro González IñárrituFoxcatcher - Directed by Bennett MillerGone Girl - Directed by David FincherLife Itself - Directed by Steve JamesDawn of the Planet of the Apes - Directed by Matt ReevesBoyhood - Directed by Richard LinklaterSnowpiercer - Directed by Bong Joon-hoIda - Directed by Peter PawlikowsiAmerican Sniper - Directed by Clint Eastwood

The Motion Picture Superimposed

Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) 
In its earliest days, the superimposed image was used mainly as a special effect, most notably in Victor Sjöström's 1921 film The Phantom Carriage, where it created the illusion of ghosts in the afterlife. These days, the superimposed image is almost everywhere, from an editing dissolve that suggests a continuation in mood (e.g. the transition from a saddened Don Corleone in bed to his home country of Italy where his son Michael has sought refuge in The Godfather) to a literal visualization of a character's inner psychology (e.g. the face of death on Norman Bates in Psycho). For me, I find the superimposed image to be one of the most powerful visual strategies for conveying an idea or a feeling. In fact, last year I created a video essay on the works of Wong Kar-Wai that heavily relied on the use of superimposition to demonstrate the filmmaker's trademark visual fervor. Below, I've curated some standout superimposed images from over the years,…

VIDEO ESSAY: Behind You

That moment when it feels like someone--or something--is standing behind you. But then you turn around and find nothing.


For the cinematic narrative, the point of view (POV) shot is a high-powered filmmaking aesthetic that thrusts the viewer from omniscient viewer to dynamic player within the context of the screen. Whether it's a subjective POV (where the camera/our field-of-view takes the place of the screen figure's own line-of-sight) or an objective POV (where the camera/our field-of-view exists alongside the screen figure, a la "cheek-to-cheek"), the POV shot invades the frame's axis, breaking the 180-degree rule, taking the visual rhetoric of the film to the next level. And as technology and filmmaking tools (e.g. the advent of 3D) continue to push the boundaries of audience-to-screen immersion, one thing remains constant: the audience sure enjoys their God's eye view in the universe of the movie.


Which is why the follow shot (sometimes called the "…

VIDEO: Honorable Mentions and the 20 #BestFilmsOf2015

[Scroll to the bottom for the video]

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Jurassic World, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, The Night Before, Tangerine, Amy, The End of the Tour, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, The Wolfpack, The Visit, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Trainwreck, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Time Out of Mind, Danny Collins, El Club, Inside Out, Phoenix, Crimson Peak, Beasts of No Nation, By The Sea, It Follows, Youth, The Walk, The Hateful Eight, The, Nightmare, Ex Machina, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Creep, The Overnight and While We’re Young.
Best Actor: Tom Hardy, Legend Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room Best Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro, Sicario Best Supporting Actress: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, Sicario Best Original Screenplay: Damián Szifrón, Wild Tales
Best Adapted Screenplay: Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, Chi-Raq Best Film Editing: Hank Corwin, The Big Short Best Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sic…

THE MARTIAN Snapchat

In an interview discussing his freewheeling and challenging film Goodbye to Language, Jean-Luc Godard made some comments on our current dependency to smartphones and, more specifically, text messaging. He questioned if anyone actually knew what the "SMS" in the phrase 'SMS text messaging' actually stood for. Godard insisted it meant "Save My Soul."
It's that very idea, that notion of being alone in the universe, that drives the dramatic weight of Ridley Scott's latest film The Martian. Much of the film involves the protagonist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) sending video selfies to NASA--and in parallel fashion to the audience in the movie auditorium. While watching the film (which is fairly conventional in regards to its plot) I was provoked by its accidental (or maybe intentional) role as a "selfie space opera."
Stimulated by this idea, I went ahead and created this video that re-imagines the film (which runs around two and a half hours) as a…

The Notion Of Independent Group Distribution--Can It Work?

Independent writer and director Ben Hicks forwarded me his recently published mammoth of an article titled "The Evolution of Film Independence" and his call for a new industry of indie distribution is both compelling--and capable of happening.
"So what is Independent (group) Distribution?
Independent (group) Distribution is when a team of independent filmmakers unite under one Film Collective, in order to effectively distribute their collective works. A Film Collective is nothing more than a trademarked name and logo that the Film Collective’s members share. No one is the owner of the Film Collective and the Film Collective does not own any of the films, the filmmakers do. Each filmmaker is only responsible for their films and are not involved creatively or financially with any other filmmaker’s work. Each Film Collective member must have their own production company from which each individual filmmaker’s films are produced through and which any and all money ea…