You’ve seen snippets of these videos on the internet, on “Craziest Car Crashes” cable TV shows. And just a few moments of any one of them tells most of us “No, there’s no way to drive safely and sanely in the once-and-future Soviet Union.”
For “The Road Movie,” a Russian director and editor has assembled 70 or so minutes of this stuff to paint a quixotic portrait of the national character, as revealed by the omni-present dashboard camera.
Unblinking dashcams see all and reveal all in this tragi-comic romp through the Wild West of Russia’s roadways. We hear the drivers singing along with their radios, carrying on conversations with their passengers, yelling obscenities at their fellow motorists and reacting with dumbfounded shock at the madness and mayhem that they and their on-board windshield cameras witness.
A nation of drunks, hotheads, idiots, the devout and the profane, the chivalrous and the murderous, pass before our gaze in Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s film. A reckless fatalism sets in behind the wheel. The national “Best to not get involved” motto is tested by road ragers, wrecks involving “other people,” literal highway robberies and confrontations with lunatics and psychotics wielding guns, hatchets and sledgehammers, all witnessed from the front seat of cars which few get out of to intervene, horrors visited upon their fellow citizens “while Russians do nothing,” as one driver, himself doing nothing, complains.
“Fatalism” implies “resigned to one’s fate,” and if there’s a Russian archetype, that’s it. How else do you explain all this footage of gamblers driving through a forest fire (yikes), blizzards, floods, meteor strikes and mass-pileups on the free-for-all-freeways?
“Crashed in the bum,” one victim mutters after a rear-ending. “Again. And again.”
The singing and chatter of one ride goes on just long enough for one to wonder if the occupants of this car rattling down a curvy country road might be drunk. They crash through a guard rail and plow into a river, and we have our answer.
“We’ve arrived,” the driver snorts (in Russian, with English subtitles).
“We are SAILING,” an unseen passenger giggles as they try to steer their still-floating scow towards the nearest riverbank.
Not all the careening is done by drunks, or so one would hope. But an army of belligerent, aggressive rubes is on the roads, and any affront is an excuse for a brawl. Drivers cause crashes and flee, bait other drivers into attempting to pass, then sucker them into spinouts. Buses and tractor-trailers change lanes with impunity and back up with a homicidal malevolence.
We see robberies and break-ins (a camera in the act of being stolen).
And then there are the village idiots, madmen wandering the streets naked, or worse, jumping on your hood and threatening bodily harm. The lady who flicks her cigarette lighter to see if she’s filled her tank is a special kind of crazy.
“The Road Movie” is not a narrative film. It doesn’t tell a story, even though there is comedy, tragedy, madness and romance amidst all the crashes and explosions. I’m not just talking about the guys haggling over rural hookers’ price-structure. Yes, a damsel left in the lurch by a thieving cabbie is saved from having her cash, purse and luggage stolen by a random knight in shining armor who picks her up when he sees this happen.
“I’m Pasha.” “I’m Dasha!” It was meant to be.
There’s an old Midwestern joke about American drivers having to “re-learn the laws of physics” every winter. The Russians of “The Road Movie” don’t so much forget them in the land of longer winters, as ignore them and expect no consequences for that.
And that’s as telling as the fact that they know and accept this on-the-road anarchy, to a one. That’s why Russia is the dash-cam capital of the world. They know bad things are going to happen. They just want proof, even if they have zero faith that anything like justice comes their way in a system that allows this anarchy to go on.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, profanity, adult situations
Cast: Assorted random Russians, Belarusians, etc.
Credits:Directed and edited y Dmitrii Kalashnikov. An Oscilloscope Laboratories release.
Running time: 1:09