Many cars in Russia are equipped with dash cams. There are various reasons for the proliferation of the cams, including pure voyeurism, evidence in case of accidents, and protection against the police, who apparently shudder at the notion of being captured on camera. This low-res panopticon has become a source of mass entertainment as some of the most outrageous cam footage has inevitably made its way onto the Internet. Dmitri Kalashnikov struck upon the idea of compiling the “best” of these viral videos into a full-length feature tilted The Road Movie (2018). The result is an unceasing 110 minute barrage of mayhem that’s not so much a documentary as it is a meditation on the both the surreality and violent potentiality of driving.
The vast majority of this documentary is culled from first-person point-of-view footage. Each clip–every source is identified at the end of the film–runs from a few seconds to a few minutes with no pause. Each clip has its own arc and own payoff. Although there are few songs on the soundtrack, most of the film’s audio is taking from the cameras themselves. Music or talk radio intermingles with idle chatter or muttering curses from drivers and passengers. Then, the mundane interior sounds are shattered by screeching metal, broken glass and screams.
Icy road conditions send cars, buses, and trucks hurtling into each other. Burning planes fall from the sky. Cars plow through smoky roads with burning forests on either side. Cars go up in flames. Power pole capacitors explode. Storms tear the roofs off of buildings. People are robbed, run over and attacked with weapons. In one particularly fitting scene, e irate drivers fight each other in front of a car while a radio program discusses whether there is a history of cannibalism in Russia.
The Road Movie is built from random low-res cam footage and there is no narrative thrust to the film. Although there are subtitles, most of the dialogue is Russian, there are no voice-overs and there is very little guidance about to what is happening or why it is happening. Thus, the key to the movie is its structure and editing. The Road Movie is assembled in a way that gives pulsing forward motion. Shocks and surprises constantly unfold and no scene hangs around too long. The overall effect is akin to a long-distance road trip where viewers are under constant threat as the world collapse before their eyes.