Germany/Ukraine/Netherlands, 2010, 127 min
Can you judge a country by its roads? Russia perhaps, with its botched byways, ominous turn-offs and implacable thoroughfares—all patrolled by rogue cops terrorizing the traffic. First-time Belarusian director Sergei Loznitsa throws his taciturn truck driver, Georgy (Viktor Nemets), onto the pitted asphalt for a journey into darkness. Not your typical road movie in which travelers find their true selves as the vistas of possibility open before them, Loznitsa’s Slavic sortie finds the road ahead narrowing to nil. Georgy’s picaresque passage takes him into the Russian countryside where he encounters peculiar folk: an old man still plagued by the Great War, a teenage prostitute who shuns kindness, a trio of tramps who wander the wasteland like an unholy trinity; each becomes a cul-de-sac of curiosity. Captured with dark authenticity, My Joy’s episodes are drawn from Loznitsa’s story trove, gathered from years of documentary work in the former republics. His clear-eyed fascination with a land in disarray is evident in his unvarnished style, rendered in grim coloration by the great Romanian cinematographer Oleg Mutu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). The allegorical journey of My Joy—from indifferent city to the village, with its rustic suspicions, and farther still to the wilds where order seems to end—parallels the devolution of Georgy from fair-faced citizen to bearded madman. Loznitsa’s gripping guignol about a Russia in decline doesn’t keep to the well-trod path. After all, “It’s not a road. It’s a direction.”
In Russian with subtitles. New Directors Prize Contender.