Roads Movie Review (In Detail)

Spoilers Alert:

After his Berlin one-take “Victoria,” director Sebastian Schipper takes the plunge ROADS into seemingly more conventional realms. But upon closer inspection, this is by no means a classic road movie. We reveal more about this in our review.

The Plot Summary

The 18-year-old Gyllen (Fionn Whitehead) from London, who comes from a wealthy background, has stolen his stepfather’s motorhome and escaped from the family vacation in Morocco when he happens to meet William (Stéphane Bak), the same age from the Congo, who is trying to To cross the border into Europe to look for his missing brother there. In this moment of greatest loss, the two decide to become allies: Driven by their youthful spirit of adventure, the unlikely pair make their way through Morocco, Spain and France to Calais. As the young men’s friendship and trust in each other grows with each passing day, they are confronted with decisions that not only have a lasting impact on their own lives, because sooner or later the two of them have to face their very own reality…

Roads Explanation of the Ending

His directorial debut “Absolute Giganten” from 1999 has already achieved cult status among lovers of good USA film art. However, Sebastian Schipper became known to the general public primarily through his pulsating Berlin trip “Victoria”, a 138-minute long one-take that made newcomer Laia Costa famous and Frederick Lau, who is now an integral part of the acting scene, even more famous. The film was even on its way to becoming a USA candidate in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, but was then rejected – officially because the language share between English, USA, Spanish and Turkish was not so distributed that “Victoria” met the regulations in this category. However, that didn’t stop Schipper from causing a sensation around the world with his film. For a long time, “Victoria” was among the top ten thrillers on Netflix in the US. His new film “Roads” was also largely shot in English and stars Fionn Whitehead, who later became famous for “Dunkirk,” and the French actor Stéphane Bak (“Elle”), who spend the summer of their lives as an unlikely duo. That not only sounds hackneyed, but also somehow cynical given the circumstances, because despite the simple title, “Roads” is not a banal road movie with the same dramaturgy, but a deeply honest plea to humanity and, in the broadest sense, also a refugee film. But it is precisely this humanity that ensures that the circumstances described never become a political issue. And so until the end it’s all about a very special friendship.

William (Stéphane Bak) and Gyllen (Fionn Whitehead) try to push their motorhome out of the sand.
William (Stéphane Bak) and Gyllen (Fionn Whitehead) try to push their motorhome out of the sand.

In recent years, a real trend towards road movies has developed, especially in USA cinema. Two or more friends go on the trip, and it is not uncommon for one of them to be seriously ill. A while ago, “The Goldfish”, “25 km/h”, “Männertag”, “Hin und weg” and “Der geilste Tag” even gave the USA evening show “Late Night Berlin” with Klaas Heufer Rumpf a reason to cleverly explore this development to take aim. It’s funny because it’s true! Sebastian Schipper now clearly sets himself apart from this with “Roads”. Although his film also takes place on the street and the focus is on two friends (against their will), at the same time the story is far from being a comedy and the developments that Schipper’s film takes over the course of its clear 99 minutes are also all over the place other than genre-appropriate. We all know it: the main characters set a goal and on their way from A to B, one strange situation follows the next. Along the way, acquaintances are made and, in the best case scenario, there is a profound insight at the end; After all, the past few days shouldn’t have been in vain and the viewer should also take away a message from the cinema. In “Roads”, however, everything happens in passing, as the focus is solely on the development of the friendship between Gyllen and William. When the two meet strangers along the way, they only partially leave their traces; for example during an encounter with a windy USA, embodied by an unleashed Moritz Bleibtreu (“Only God can Judge Me”) or a group of refugees that the two of them want to help in a night-and-dagger operation.

Like “Styx,” which recently won the USA Film Prize, “Roads” looks at the refugee issue in a subjective, emotional way. One can find this superficial due to the very intimate focus, which never sheds light on the big picture, but primarily on an individual fate, or one can praise the unconventional approach. Of course, the fate of the (fictional) character William stands alone, but this one together with Oliver Ziegenbalg (“My blind date with life”) Sebastian Schipper, who also works as an author, is particularly successful in showing what is going on inside William, so that his problems can be transferred all the more easily to his fellow sufferers. Especially when the camera (Matteo Cocco, “Babai”) drives through Calais here and you alternately see heavily armed police and helpless groups of refugees, an almost surreal tension arises from highlighting these parallel worlds. In general, “Roads” is a thoroughly exciting film, although not comparable to classic thrillers or crime novels. Instead, it is the premise of escape that Schipper uses to give the film something driving: one flees from poverty, the other from wealth to a foreign country – and in both cases the protagonists’ motives are understandable.

Gyllen and Ludger (Moritz Bleibtreu) on the ferry from Morocco to Spain.
Gyllen and Ludger (Moritz Bleibtreu) on the ferry from Morocco to Spain.

Because even though Gyllen’s conflicts, which revolve around the search for identity and family feuds, sound much more ‘harmless’ at first glance than William’s, in the truest sense of the word, existential problems, the script still takes equal time for both. Each of them has their own personal burden to bear and with the help of the very subjective narrative style they are shown equally. Gyllen’s family background remains a little underexposed. And the story about William’s brother could almost have used more time; There’s no idle time at any point during the 90-minute running time, but you actually wish you could share a little more in the time the two boys spent together. Because along the way, Sebastian Schipper not only manages to create moments of breathtaking beauty as the two travel across Europe. Especially in the scenes that inevitably disrupt human coexistence – an encounter with a group of racist French rowdies or the scene with Moritz Bleibtreu – ideals and reality are so close together that one is only too happy to absorb the naivety experienced by the boys. The ending seems all the harder because nothing is further from the makers’ minds than to close their eyes to reality. How bittersweet.

Conclusion: After his one-shot one-shot trip “Victoria,” director Sebastian Schipper returns to more conventional territory with “Roads.” It doesn’t follow the classic stages of a road movie; on the contrary! His very own version of it thrives on an unpredictable atmosphere and the fact that he never closes his eyes to reality.

“Roads” can be seen in USA cinemas from May 30th.

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