A 70-minute assemblage of Russian dashboard camera videos, “The Road Movie” unfurls like a mix of Alien Workshop’s avant-goof skateboard video “Memory Screen,” Robin Bougie’s gnarly-silly porn clip tautology “Retard-O-Tron,” and Alan Clarke’s dispassionate, cinematic laundry list of violence, “Elephant.” Its director Dmitrii Kalashnikov is a coy minimalist with impeccable pacing who knows when to just give you the goods, when to let you sit in some quiet build-up or chill hang-out time afterward, and when to distract with brisk montages set to music. With each clip, you anticipate something ugly happening and briefly breathe easy when it’s more ridiculous than horrifying (a naked woman wandering down the median; a guy stealing sausages from the back of a delivery truck) though occasionally the two intersect, like when a car cruises through a forest on fire or a driver acrobatically bounds out the front window of his truck after a collision and jogs to the shoulder, unscathed.
“The Road Movie” contains lots of pain and injury and some deaths in here probably and this has been a big sticking point in just about every review of the movie. Compounding xenophobia and bourgeois morality American critics in particular have tried to cast the movie as an argument for how Russia is out of control or some larger lament about society as too far gone, but that’s pure projection (“The Road Movie” is the most misread movie by film culture’s wet sandwiches since “Spring Breakers”). People here curse like maniacs and road rage clips involve sledge hammers, hatchets, and fist fights for sure, but if the movie makes any kind of argument, it’s in praise of resilience (the prevalence of the dashcams in Russia, by the way, is tied to profoundly corrupt police and hopelessly unkind insurance companies) and people’s scrappy kindness. Following moments where people witness an accident, narrowly escape death, or get hit but not hit too bad, they often announce how “lucky” they are and wonder if others are OK. Hearing people amid panic engenders empathy.
Like the “Cursed Images” Twitter account or that “Back at it again at Krispy Kreme” Vine, “The Road Movie’s” clips offer a quick reward—a dose of pure terror, comedy, or both—but entire stories hide inside these clips if you wanna absorb all of the details and context clues. Little things such as the music (often sugar rush Russian pop) or talk radio (often of the icky shock jock sort) playing in the cars while bonkers bullshit happens on the other side of the front window add some deadpan levity; quotidian conversations leading up to the chaos are entertaining and occasionally existential. “What a fuck. He saw cows. Why was he riding so fast?” a driver asks after witnessing a car hit a few cows crossing the street. When a seemingly drunk driver veers off the road into a muddy river, the passenger calmly quips,“We are sailing.” And a clip where nothing happens is among the most loaded. Brief footage of a car on the road leading up to the Kremlin is revealed via the ending credits as a video tangentially tied to the death of a Putin critic. Its title: “From the place of Boris Nemtsov murder episode, Uploaded by the public account WorldNews, 308 views.”
“The Road Movie,” directed by Dmitrii Kalashnikov, opens at the Parkway on Feb. 2.