Road-Movie: A coming-of-age drive-through
by Martin Kudláč
- The feature debut by up-and-coming Czech filmmaker Martin Jelínek is a minimalistic genre crossover that delves into the mindscape of today’s young adults
Budding young filmmaker Martin Jelínek is yet another fresh face emerging this year in Czech cinema whose feature debut has attracted the attention of festival programmers. Jan Těšitel’s David [+see also:
film profile], Vít Zapletal’s Dust of the Ground [+see also:
interview: Vit Zapletal
film profile] and Tomasz Mielnik’s Journey to Rome [+see also:
film profile], which all premiered earlier this year, are part of a late surge of new talents that Jelínek is also a member of, and there is something that the filmmaking quartet have in common. Road-Movie [+see also:
film profile], screening at the Black Nights Film Festival, doubles as the director’s graduation film, and all four were classmates. But despite them all having attended the same courses, they demonstrate individual and distinctive approaches and styles. Road-Movie serves as a counterpart to Mielnik’s surreal and colourful imagery in Journey to Rome (Jelínek is credited as having co-written that film and Dust of the Ground, with a similar role having been fulfilled by Zapletal on Road-Movie) with its minimalistic spirit conveyed by two protagonists who spend most of their time in a car. Jelínek acknowledges that the close relationship between him and his peers is driven by “some form of enthusiasm and fervent yearning to discover what cinema is about and how it works, and to sacrifice the whole of one’s personality and strength”, while he also mentions an ambition to inject new blood into the veins of Czech cinema, avoiding “moral or aesthetic free fall”.
Jakub co-owns a travel agency poetically named Dulce Travels, a tongue-in-cheek name that will bounce back with renewed meaning later in the film. A family reunion he is about to attend, held in his hometown, away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city, distracts him from his usual workflow and temporarily extracts him from the busy environment he is accustomed to. But a chance meeting with his childhood friend Ilona turns into an impromptu road trip. Jelínek portrays this in the simplest form possible, staging it as a straightforward stream-of-consciousness type of conversation, unburdened by complicated plotting and captured in a light-hearted, observational manner.
The road-movie genre only became an integral part of the movie later on in the development process, after the theme had been fleshed out. “The decision to make the film into a pure road movie was made gradually as the plot developed, as this genre helped us to develop the story to depict what we wanted to say,” says the director; but the genre actually frames what is essentially a coming-of-age tale enveloped in a platonic “boy re-meets girl” scenario. Jakub and Ilona represent two opposing poles, whose collision leads to an exchange of opinions on life. Although they have a shared background, their diverging destinies lead both to assume different standpoints. He, a businessman with a start-up, embodies a rational and pragmatic view, whereas she, a medicine dropout in search of a fulfilling occupation, stands for youthful idealism and romanticism. Their informal chat as they zoom along mostly empty roads covers topics such as work and life, touching directly upon the notions of freedom, restriction and purpose, which eventually leads them to the overarching motif of contemporary young adults’ crusade for happiness, with capitalism being one of the ingredients.
The director takes us on “a long day’s journey into night” and back again to the crack of dawn, and thus to everyday life; he is wary of relying on archetypes and the pitfalls they entail, and never indulges in a barrage of inane philosophising, crafting the story so that it sticks as closely as possible to the mindscape of its protagonists, yet avoiding any superfluous elements in both the script and the mise-en-scene. The casual camerawork of Aleš Lněnička and Filip Rejč does not often stray from the pair’s immediate vicinity, apart from in the odd shot intended to highlight their isolation by showing an empty street full of parked cars. Careful not to fall into obvious clichés and devoid of sentimentality, Road-Movie is easily imaginable as a stage production with back-projections due to its minimalistic form, but its symbolism and absence of moralisation make it Jelínek’s successful directorial rite of passage and a promising glimpse of an up-and-coming generation of filmmakers.
Road-Movie was produced by Studio FAMU.