directed by Dmitrii Kalashnikov
by Alice Stoehr Dashboard-mounted cameras are surveillance tools. They can prove who's at fault in an accident, counter insurance scams, and record run-ins with the police; in the corruption-riddled nation of Russia especially, they've become widespread as legal safeguards. But the footage they capture can also double as entertainment. For what, in the whole history of moviegoing, has stimulated a viewer's lizard brain better than a car crash? In The Road Movie, documentarian Dmitrii Kalashnikov has compiled dozens of clips shot by his countrymen on dashcams and uploaded to video-hosting websites. Their lengths range from a few seconds to a few minutes, and the events they document are unpredictable, but they all share the same vantage point: gazing through a windshield onto the road. The director's input is subtle. He's present mostly in the curation and arrangement of the videos, with signs of trimming here and there. Kalashnikov achieves a seamless flow that keeps the film's 70 minutes from growing monotonous. So, for example, during one stretch a cloud of smoke pours from a burning bus; runaway horses block a car's progress through the snow; then a driver ricochets off a snowbank and right into oncoming traffic. Kalashnikov doesn't impose any context on them, so that task falls to the vehicles' occupants, whose faces usually go unseen and whose subtitled chatter is only sporadically relevant to the scene in the road.
The videos' origins as surveillance footage shape their spare aesthetic. The timestamps that cling to the corner of the frame may not be pretty, but they are an aspect of the naked reality reproduced on screen. The camera's angle, level and direct, yields some rich compositions while also displacing action into off-screen sound and space. This inadvertent artistry faintly recalls the work of the late Abbas Kiarostami or, perhaps more relevant, the 2014 masterpiece "Camera falls from airplane and lands in pig pen--MUST WATCH END!!" Like that minute-and-a-half YouTube video caught by a tumbling GoPro, these clips raise questions of authorship. Kalashnikov may have appropriated them and directed the film as a whole, but he didn't shoot anything himself. Yet when a car flips in a head-on crash, and the dashcam stares poignantly at a splintered windshield, driver shuddering audibly behind it, who authored that? The Road Movie never explicitly broaches this or any other question; it just carries on in astonishment with its grab bag of vehicular mishegoss. Implicitly, though, all these miniature dramas suggest that any crossroads in Russia might well be the site of something droll or shocking or spectacular.