Monday, January 15, 2018

The Road Movie: The Dash-Cam is Watching

These are the folks who keep voting for Putin. In addition to trading Olympic hosting duties with China, Russia should also become the permanent home of the Darwin Awards. At least viewers could jolly well come to that conclusion after watching this compilation of Russian dash-cam footage. In any event, the spectacularly crackheaded vehicular misbehavior is never dull to behold in Dimitrii Kalashnikov’s The Road Movie (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

To be fair, the snowy Russian winters do not do motorists any favors. There are indeed plenty of clips featuring cars and tractor-trailers gliding gracefully towards the recording dash-cam car, like a figure skater. Then there is also the woman who used a butane lighter to illuminate her gas tank while pumping petrol. Gasoline plus open flame. You do the math.

Most of the footage assembled in Road Movie fits somewhere on the spectrum between Jackass and the particularly horrifying 1960s driver’s ed industrial films, like Dice in a Box (which explained how vans are basically death traps on wheels). Yet, just when you think it isn’t political, Kalashnikov shows about a dozen SWAT-style cops shaking down an unlucky dash-cam owner in an apparently bogus traffic stop. How much could they possibly hope to extort from him—a few thousand rubles? They really ought to be more ambitious in their corruption.

Moments like that elevate Road Movie beyond an online super-cut. Serving as his own editor, Kalashnikov (fittingly, like the assault rifle) has a shrewd eye for tension and telling details. The frequent presence of words like “b*tch” and “f*g” are surely no coincidence, but an effort to reflect street level attitudes. Seriously, these are the people who tampered with our election? That’s truly terrifying. Yet, nobody can blame him for what found its way into the film. The dash-cam has a fixed, unfiltered perspective. How you enter its field of vision is on you.

Road Movie clocks in at a mere sixty-nine minutes, but a concept like this could easily turn lame if it were conspicuously padded. Kalashnikov gives it enough of veneer of sociological inquiry to make this massive exercise in rubber-necking feel respectable. Indeed, it is often a literal traffic wreck that we can’t turn away from. Recommended for mayhem seekers and anyone perversely curious about the state of the world, The Road Movie opens this Friday (1/19) in New York, at the Quad Cinema downtown and the AMC Empire in Midtown.