'The Road Movie': Film Review

The Road Movie H 2016
Courtesy of The Road Movie
Far more rewarding than clicking through YouTube for hours in search of this stuff.

Dmitrii Kalashnikov's supercut scours the web for the most startling footage of auto trips gone awry.

Hearing about The Road Movie, Dmitrii Kalashnikov's feature-length assembly of shocking scenes filmed from dashboard cameras in and around Russia, some will wonder why they ought to go to a theater to see it. Can't they just watch all the same stuff online?

That entirely misses the point of this expertly constructed project, which casts a big-screen spell transmuting its source material into something much greater than its Russia's Funniest Home Videos parts. Suspenseful and funny, occasionally poignant and often nearly unbelievable, it captures a certain sociological flavor while remaining universally accessible. In niche bookings, it will win Kalashnikov many fans, though one wonders how he could follow it up without copying himself.

While Americans may associate in-car photography mostly with viral videos that expose the misdeeds of highway patrol and urban police officers, it seems that Russians have taken to recording their everyday commutes with cheap cameras mounted on or above their dashboards. If something remarkable happens, they upload the clips to YouTube or some other host. Kalashnikov, who once had a job making driving-safety videos about car crashes, became intrigued by these clips. Here, the cream of his collection is assembled in a circle-of-life stream running from winter through summer to winter again. With a couple of trivial exceptions, he lets each shot run without interruption, usually with the sound in the car accompanying it.

Naturally, viewers will be treated to many wrecks — from head-on-collisions to rear-endings and pileups. They'll see what happens when tall, top-heavy trucks take turns too sharply, and they'll see that not all witnesses are concerned about what happens to the driver. But several nail-biting near-misses keep these accidents from growing monotonous, as does the doc's pacing. After a stretch of non-violence, Kalashnikov is liable to splice several wrecks together into a kinetic music video.

But it's the other stuff that makes Road Movie spellbinding. Given how the thrills are delivered, it doesn't ruin anything to say that viewers will see: a fiery comet racing through the sky, an Army tank pulling in for a car wash and a cow that, knocked over by a truck, calmly gets back up and walks away. They'll hear everything from backseat driving to shocked concern to the haggling between a streetwalker and the horny cheapskates who pull up alongside her.

We ride alongside drivers who must plunge through snowstorms, hurricane-force winds and (in a horrifying highlight) a raging forest fire. And if we think we know what to expect from the film's scenes of road rage, we are likely wrong.

Dependent on what the dashcams caught, the film contains one or two anticlimactic episodes. What the hell happened to that red car that led cops on a chase toward the Kremlin? Did the student driver who catastrophically mistook the gas pedal for the brakes ever have the nerve to drive again? The credits dutifully list the names (and view-counts) of every online video Kalashnikov uses. Maybe tracking those down, viewers can read what happened once the filming stopped.

Production company: Volia Films
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Director: Dmitrii Kalashnikov
Producer: Volia Chajkouskaya
Executive producers: Christian D. Bruun, Rafael Avigdor
Composers: Aukcion, Troitsa, Red Snapper

In Russian
70 minutes