While watching Dimitrii Kalishnakov’s oddly curated selection of car dash camera videos in The Road Movie, I asked myself what, if anything, could I learn about Russian society through this literal window of images? There’s no real identifier from one video to the next, and the only common thread or theme as it cuts between each segment (each of intermittent length) is the fact that there are some absolutely crazy things going on out there.
If that’s the specified reaction Kalishnakov wants to evoke with The Road Movie, then it’s mission accomplished. Anything else is sorely lacking.
Comprised of stationary front windshield camera shots (presumably derived mostly from taxi cabs as the titles of each video reveals during the final credits), The Road Movie is like a Faces of Death for the digital age … except all of these images and events are real, unlike some of that cult film’s staged hysteria. We see endless car crashes on Russian highways. A car full of people reacting as they drive through the heart of a raging forest fire. A tank, complete with manned crew sitting atop smoking cigarettes, cut in front of a car to get in line for a car wash. And perhaps the most disturbing image is the one that feels the most real: a scantily clad woman, running up to the hood of a car from out of the darkness of a side road, obviously scared for her life, and sitting atop the hood of the car as if it’s the only relevant thing keeping her alive. It’s one of the few segments that begs the question of exposition and explanation that never comes.
In fact, nothing is ever explained. Each video segment starts and stops just as furiously. I get the feeling Dostoevsky would be proud. However, for all of its shock and awe, The Road Movie never really takes off, stalling behind an attention-deficit disorder of momentary pleasure at the misfortune of others. It offers split second gasps and head shakes at the violence of a car collision before moving onto the next episode. Depth, feeling or rational is not the purpose here.
So, to segue back to my original question. Can we learn anything from all this? Probably just as much as one can learn about American society by burrowing into the virtual rabbit hole of YouTube, which is not very much, outside the fact that life offers unexpected moments of serendipity … life is sometimes cruel … life is sometimes vapid … but mostly it’s often stranger than fiction. At the every least, The Road Movie epitomizes that. And if it offers some pretty amazing footage of that asteroid that crashed to Earth a few years back. I suppose that’s worth something.
The Road Movie opens in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Friday, January 19 at the AMC Dine-In 30 Mesquite.