Bad Roads 2020
Distributed by Film Movement
Produced by Yuriy Minzyanov and Dmitriy Minzyanov
Directed by Natalya Vorozhbit
Streaming, 105 mins
International Relations; Violence; War
Date Entered: 08/04/2022Reviewed by Tyler K. Smith, Reference Librarian, Cambria County Library
Bad Roads premiered in Ukraine in 2021, over nine months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022. This alone imbues the film with special historical significance for anyone interested in a Ukrainian perspective on the conflict during the final days of its confinement to the eastern Donbas region.
These four short films engage less with battlefield exploits than the fraying of social fabric within mostly ordinary encounters between mostly ordinary people. Viewers could be forgiven for initially trying to sort characters into protagonists and villains, as popular films have taught us to do. Will the soldiers manning a checkpoint abuse their authority and harm an innocent civilian, or will the unassuming school headmaster be exposed as a Russian collaborator? Nothing in Bad Roads is quite that simple.
These characters feel human, deeply flawed but not terrible, trying in vain to discern some factual and moral certainty within a hopelessly complex morass which they are often ill-equipped to navigate. (A young, tough-looking soldier reveals that he was never taught in school how to use a Kalashnikov rifle, but he can sing in French.) We see generational conflict between an older Ukrainian woman who identifies with Russia and her young niece whose boyfriend is fighting for Ukraine. No one is completely evil or wrong, though most viewers will have developed more sympathy for one of those perspectives by now.
Even the clearest villains are shown to have been molded by forces larger than themselves, compelled by circumstances to choose “which side to take, which songs to sing.” However, knowing how warped you are and how you got that way, or even aspiring to find your way back to normalcy and decency do not always absolve your sins.
The filmmakers invite us more than once to ponder the value of human life (in kilograms) as you might haggle over the price of a brood hen accidentally run over in the street. Either calculation can prove surprisingly difficult, and this has grave implications for cycles of hatred and violence. While war is shown to have a will of its own that overpowers and diverts the best intentions of mere mortals, Bad Roads doesn’t veer into moral relativism. Right and wrong exist, and moral debts accrue, but there will never be full accounting and recompense for death.
Awards: Winner, Verona Film Club Award, Venice Film Festival; Winner, Best Actor, Ukrainian Film Critics’ Awards; Winner, Best Actress, Ukrainian Film Critics’ Awards; Winner, Best Screenplay, Ukrainian Film Academy Awards; Winner, Best Actor, Ukrainian Film Academy Awards; Winner, Best Supporting Actor, Ukrainian Film Academy Awards; Winner, Best Supporting Actress, Ukrainian Film Academy Awards
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