Sebastian Schipper’s previous film, Victoria, was renowned for being entirely filmed in a single take. His latest film, Roads, does not rely on a stunt such as this. Instead, the film takes a very barebones approach to its filmmaking, yet that is exactly what this story required. Two teenagers, Gyllen and William, happen to stumble upon one another in a chance encounter. Both of them are looking for members of their family, and require each other to arrive at their end goal. Yet what they discover on the journey may be more essential to their development than their destination. For if Roads is evident of anything, it’s that family can come from anywhere when people are stripped to their essentials.
The two leads come from very different walks of life. Gyllen is witty and carefree because he’s always had the privilege to be. He steals his stepfather’s RV to travel across borders without a license. Additionally, he regularly provokes fights and doesn’t care about the consequences; a slap on the wrist means nothing to him. William, on the other hand, is an African refugee that cannot share that same whimsy in life. He must stay on his toes for the threat of imprisonment could crash down at any moment. It isn’t until William highlights this paranoid lifestyle that Gyllen begins to contemplate his actions. The bond these two share becomes more and more apparent as their road trip continues, and the realizations they come to are essential to the friendship they form.
The thematic link that is embedded in Roads is the necessity of family. Without it, the characters on screen are lost. It seems to be the sole connection these two strangers can share. Yet through various trials and tribulations, the boys are able to learn they aren’t much different when superficial elements are stripped away. Although the reasoning for them may differ, their vulnerabilities are crucial to their understanding of one another. With this vulnerability, the two are able to form an organic chemistry that speaks volumes of the script and its naturalistic tendencies. These moments are where the beauty of the film shines. The most vulnerable moments come when the characters are the sole focus of the scene, and there are no distractions. The score is removed, the camera is still, and the two teenagers are left to the nature surrounding them and each other’s company.
Consequently, Roads can best be described as very lifelike throughout its short, but powerful, runtime. Schipper, the cast, and crew make inventive decisions that engross the viewer into the journey. The audience is allowed to see how the boys view each other through first person perspectives. The score remains evocative whenever present, and in its absences, natural ambience fills the background. Fionn Whitehead and Stephane Bak give incredibly nuanced and powerful performances. So much so that their relationship seems like that of friends who grew up together. Combined, all these elements allow Roads to hit all the emotional marks it attempts. It seems like all parties involved remained confident in the final product, and its extremely recognizable.
An interesting aspect of Roads is how rooted in political context the film is. Yet at no point does Schipper begin making political statements. It ties wonderfully into the theme of relying exclusively on essentials. Decisions made that have political and legal impacts are now based solely on moral intent. Comic relief quickly becomes perceived as a coping mechanism. Any surface observations can be pushed to the side, and Roads stresses the importance of this notion. For the difference between right and wrong can occur in the blink of an eye.
When discussing Schipper’s latest film, one should make it a challenge to contemplate the core of the film rather than dissect piece by piece. The thematic center of Roads can speak volumes more about the overall product. The film itself is a rather straightforward narrative, and that’s because the complexities of the film are able to remain within the characters. With this in mind, one takeaway remains very crucial when going into this film. The same road can lead to many different destinations, but the journey itself, and those we take it with, are more important overall.
Roads is celebrating its international premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is part of the International Narrative Competition.