The Road

in 37th Moscow International Film Festival

by Pierre-Simon Gutman

It is fair to say that there has been some heated debate about the attribution of the FIPRESCI prize to the Lebanese movie The Road. This year’s winner at the Moscow International Film Festival has divided the jury, but those who defended it and loved did so with a passion that made it stand well above the rest of the selection. Coming in the middle of the competition, The Road has clearly stuck in the mind of most viewers and has shaken up the entire selection. The film did this by daring to look – at its characters, the scenery, the country – with a passion and a faith that managed to pull it above the field.

The Road presents a fairly simple story, mainly a pretext for its young actress and director to create images and sequences; a starting point that we know, at least since the sixties, to be a good one for a movie not bound and tied by its screenplay. A young couple, apparently in love but also in some undefined and perpetual unease, decides to hit the road in a car and travel across the country in order to try and find, if not themselves, at least a renewed sense of life or of their love. The trip plays on some familiar themes, specially the opposition between the city and the country, which sometimes borders on a cliché but is surprisingly potent. That is mainly due to the filmmaker’s ability to find the right frames and mood to capture both the urban night-life (the male protagonist seems to be a DJ) and the countryside that acts as a perfect opposite, forcing our “heroes” to face themselves, stripped of what seems to be a good part of their daily existence.

The direction of The Road, skilled and potent as it may be, is also the result of influences that have been well digested by the authors. This picture is still, clearly, a first. And as always happens in those cases, it carries influences and images that have obsessed Rana Salem and Christel Salem probably ever since they discovered cinema. From Abbas Kiarostami to Wong Kar Waï, it is a large and diverse panel, and it is this diversity that manages to finally give The Road its own, coherent identity. Another important factor is the way in which the movie manages to be one with its characters. Of course, the fact that the main actress is none other than the director, and the main actor is her real life companion, plays a part. But, even though, Salem plays the game: there is something narcissistic in the way she shoots herself but, from Chaplin to Eastwood and Moretti, this has been a mainstay of many auteurs. There is an honesty, a will to totally commit body and soul with her movie that sets The Road apart and makes it emotional. In the end, the sheer force of The Road comes from a simple fact: despite its eventual weaknesses or juvenile flaws, the film truly looks at its protagonists and scenery. It doesn’t really try to tell a story; it tries to live and represent a moment, a mood, or a sentiment. And it is this ambition that creates pure cinematographic instants. The Road manages to do this, and presents Salem as a young filmmaker who could, with time and persistence, make her mark on Lebanese cinema.

Edited by Birgit Beumers