Rough Road Ahead, or the point of no return for persecuted youth
by Aurore Engelen
- Austrian director Christian Frosch brings us a tragic story about a love affair suppressed by the patriarchal society of the late 1960s
Rough Road Ahead [+see also:
film profile], by Christian Frosch, was unveiled in the official competition of the Brussels Film Festival. Ruby (also known as Rosemary on the street) and Martin are 17 years old. They’re young, good-looking, and in love. But whilst being in love in 1967 when you’re 17 years old is exciting, you’re also bound by the rules of a patriarchal society that doesn’t allow young girls the freedom to shorten their skirts or young men to have long hair. Too bad that the patriarchs ruling this society are far from perfect, emotionally and socially stunted even. Ruby and Martin crave the breeze of freedom rippling through the era, but only at night can they indulge their cravings. By day, Martin simmers at high school, whilst Ruby has had to drop out of school to help her father provide for their family. Although you’re not all that serious when you’re 17 years old, as stated by Rimbaud, Martin’s idol, this is exactly what is expected of the couple. They muddle through somehow, with perseverance and crazy dreams, until Ruby is caught by her father returning home after sneaking out at night to see Martin. The punishment is immediate: with the support of the State, the parents of the two youngsters send Ruby to a convent, and Martin to a correction centre for young offenders. Their stays in these institutions are nothing but long sentences of bullying, persecution and humiliation for both, and the two youngsters, whose love holds strong throughout their imprisonment, can think of nothing but finding one another when they get out. However, on the outside, nothing is as it once was. Ruby’s salvation is music and song. Song lulled her into a trance during her illicit meetings with Martin, song saves her life in the convent, attracting the good graces of mother superior, and song is what she plans to make a career out of when she gets out of the convent. Ruby is a young modern woman who evolves with song – to the point that she ends up becoming a disco heroine. She is able to reinvent herself in the face of obstacles, changing her first name, becoming an altar boy, then a star singer. Martin has trouble joining the revolution that has passed him by. Traumatised by his experience in the correction centre, he cannot bring himself to give up on what has been stolen from him: his carefreeness and innocence. Leaving the centre hastens his unavoidable downfall, and even his reunion with Ruby is not enough to propel him into the future.
Austrian director Christian Frosch brings us a conventional story of calmly psychedelic aesthetics which epitomises, through the lives of Ruby (Victoria Schulz) and Martin (Anton Spieker), the hedonistic formula of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. And despite the relentless attempts of society to bring its youth to order, as out of touch as it may be, the path of our two heroes, be it smooth or tragic, illustrates their spirit of rebellion, and their fierce desire to decide their own fate, even if it has fatal consequences.
(Translated from French)