Anyone tired of dealing with traffic should find catharsis in The Road Movie, which showcases jaw-dropping highway footage from Russian dashboard-mounted cameras. Far from the accident-porn exploitation one might expect, this Jackass-crude documentary is more an exploration of the nation’s Wild West nature: More than half of Russia’s cars have dashcams to capture evidence of wrongdoing by other motorists as well as cops (“The road police is now afraid of these cams,” says one observer).
Director-editor Dmitrii Kalashnikov has skillfully assembled about 70 minutes of video material uploaded from the devices, capturing a wide variety of situations. It opens like a found-footage sci-fi thriller, as two guys witness the 2013 descent of the Chelyabinsk meteor and set out to find where it landed. Ominous sights follow (a bus on fire, horses pulling sleighs with no riders), setting a tone of anticipation for the first crash.
Still, Kalashnikov eschews submerging us in twisted metal and carnage. Instead, The Road Movie is a study of human nature under unusual circumstances, revealing the often stoic and nonchalant nature of the Russian character. “We are sailing,” murmurs one driver as his car winds up floating down a river. These people are resilient, even if their vehicles are not. Elsewhere, scenes range from darkly comic (duck meets windshield) to horrifying (an escape through a raging forest fire, eerily echoing recent blazes in California). There’s universal relevance when someone asks, “Are they making a movie?” as a military tank pulls up to a car wash. As a matter of fact, they are.