The Movie Waffler First Look Review - BAD ROADS | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - BAD ROADS

bad roads review
Tales of women's experiences on the byways of Eastern Ukraine.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Natalya Vorozhbit

Starring: Igor Koltovskyy, Andrey Lelyukh, Vladimir Gurin, Anna Zhurakovskaya, Yuliya Matrosova, Maryna Klimova, Yuri Kulinich, Zoya Baranovskaya, Oksana Voronina, Sergei Solovyov

bad roads poster

We open on a Donbas highway somewhere along the border of Ukraine. Constant heat rises from the tarmac, creating a warm haze in the air above; a shimmering inversion layer which belies the landscape. Pressure, an entrapment of oxygen, distorts and manipulates our perspectives and makes it hard to breathe. In Natalya Vorozhbit’s portmanteau of four stories concerning the Ukrainian war, and the twisted behaviours of people caught within the crushing dynamics of conflict and mistrust, we witness the corruption of human interchange under compelled circumstances.

bad roads review

Pulling back from the asphalt, Bad Roads’ first tale concerns a drunken headmaster stopped at border control by eager soldiers. As a playwright (Bad Roads was originally performed and published as a theatrical work), Vorozhbit’s dialogue is the draw in this first story, with our suspicions exploited by the fluid interaction between the supposed teacher and the men with guns - is this hapless bloke really an educator trying to go about his day? Can the AK47 found in the boot of his car actually be, as he claims, a model used to teach children about war? The in media res exclusion manipulates the audience - our natural instinct is to align with the underdog, but, at the same time, this is Ukraine during war, where citizens are drawn into violence and brutality. Trust is unafforded to Vorozhbit’s characters and concurrently not a luxury extended to her audience, either.

bad roads review

The second tale involves a group of girls waiting for their soldier boyfriends at a bus stop. The girls’ matter of fact conversations about sex and the expected standard of women within male hegemonies is intriguingly revealing of the everyday subjugations in Ukraine, but after the shifting sympathies of the opening gambit, this section slows the pace, and is probably the aspect most telling of Bad Roads’ theatrical origins. Cinema can flatten interactions which are otherwise vivid and insistent in live performance, viz. that adage about cinematic dialogue being overheard, while theatrical speech is directed. Eavesdropping on these teens and their worries about virginity and honour doesn’t quite have the urgency of Bad Roads’ other stories.

bad roads review

However, as part of Bad Roads’ loosely linked narrative structure, this section does function as a prelude for the film’s third and most powerful quarter, a two hander wherein a female journalist is captured by an opposition soldier (a paramour of one of the previous characters?) and proceeds to be brutalised verbally and physically in the film’s longest sequence. The cinematic language seems to be borrowed from Eli Roth here, with sickly green lighting and an underground set of broken tiles and smashed walls. And likewise, the torture is repellent and unflinching, but never played for spectacle, instead suggesting a masculine cruelty which abides beyond the spoils of war. Vorozhbit’s quiet anger and sense of injustice powers her storytelling: we see no conflict as such, just a grim contortion of human interplay, and, perhaps, the nihilistic suggestion that our natural inclination could veer towards malice. In an epilogue sequence, a woman runs over a hen and is bullied by the owners of the dead wildfowl, indicating the casual brutalities and need for status which proliferates during war contexts wherein essential humanity is blurred before it is ultimately erased.

Bad Roads is in US cinemas and VOD from April 29th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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