by Geoffrey Churchman
As the graphic on the poster above suggests, this in essence is a road movie, but rather different to what the genre usually involves. With occasional exceptions such as The Motorcycle Diaries or Mad Max, the best known road movies have been set in America, usually featuring characters trying to find themselves or avoiding the law, and often in muscle cars, the most iconic of them being Vanishing Point (1971) featuring a 1970 Dodge Challenger and Thelma and Louise (1991) in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird.
Somehow the genre only seems to work well when there are wide open landscapes mostly devoid of people; those set in other environments are less successful.
So — a documentary of an actual fulfillment quest by a golden age English couple (retired lawyer Rupert Grey, the great-grandson of 1830s UK Prime Minister Earl Grey and his wife Jan) driving along the coastal and then mountainous areas of India towards a social-political photography festival, the 2013 Chobi Mela, in Dhaka, Bangladesh — and driving a 1936 Rolls Royce in a rather dubious state of roadworthiness?
The concept is a good one, but the result isn’t so much a cause for enthusiasm, as far too much of the relatively short running time of 80 minutes is allocated to ‘talking heads’ and not nearly enough to photography of what you will get to experience if you were doing the same thing yourself. After all, the colour and chaos of India, and the contrast between grandeur (mostly from British colonial days) and overpopulated squalor are what make the huge country interesting. This is presented, but in short glimpses rather than the lingering exploration that the armchair traveller is keen to see.
The entertainment that one might expect — lunatic driving on rough roads, getting sick from unhygenic food preparation, smoking hashish, cultural rituals, among other things — is more mentioned than shown. The same applies to the presence of insurgents in the mountains: apart from a procession of military trucks, we don’t see any supporting evidence. A key principle of movies is, show us, don’t tell us.
Bureaucracy at the India-Bangladesh border does get lingering treatment and demonstrates one of the things the sub-continent is known for, as well as the less than aimiable relations between the predominately Hindu and predominately Muslim regions of what was pre-1947 India. But there is little of the rest of the trip inside Bangladesh.
The events date back to 2012-2013 and the movie was first released in other countries in 2017, but it doesn’t lose currency except for a reference to Boris Johnson as the Mayor of London when he is now British Prime Minister. However, the presentation leaves you with the feeling of having seen an extended series of highlights rather than a full movie.
Romantic Road is screening at the Shoreline Cinema.