BAD ROADS (Plokhiye dorogi)

(director/writer: Natalya Vorozhbit; screenwriter: from the play by Natalya Vorozhbit; cinematographer: Volodymyr Ivanov; editor: Alexander Chorny; cast: Igor Koltovskyy (The Headmaster), Andrey Lelyukh (The Commander), Vladimir Gurin (Young Soldier), Anna Zhurakovskaya (The Girl), Yuliya Matrosova (The Grandmother), Maryna Klimova (Yuliya, the Journalist), Yuri Kulinich (Stas, the Rebel Soldier),  Oksana Cherkashyna (combat medic), Oksana Voronina (The Farmer’s Wife), Sergei Solovyov (The Farmer), Zoya Baranovskaya (Motorist); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Yuriy Minzyanov, Dmitriy Minzyanov: Film Movement; 2020-Ukraine-in Russian with English subtitles)

“It explores man’s barbaric treatment of the opposite sex during wartime.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ukrainian screenwriter Natalya Vorozhbit, in her feature film directing debut, directs and writes the humanistic script that’s based on her insightful but bleak 2017 play (played in London) on the dire conditions in Ukraine’s Donbass when the Russians invade and divide the region’s loyalty. It uncompromisingly tells how women are exploited sexually and emotionally during wartime.

In 2014 Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region was invaded by neighboring Russia, dividing the country, and the Russians were supported by a separatist military.

 Bad Roads is told in five short stories, in different settings, as it explores man’s barbaric treatment of the opposite sex during wartime.

In one story, a tipsy headmaster (Igor Koltovskyy) of a local high school is trapped when confronted in the morning by two Ukranian soldiers at a military check-point in the town of Popasna, as by mistake he shows them the wrong passport. The soldiers question his Kalashnikov rifle, which he claims is a toy model used for giving military training to his students. It soon becomes clear why the teacher is driving around: he is looking for a female student; after spotting her, he asks the soldiers to let her go: “You are saying that you defend us, but you are fucking our children. Please leave this one alone, she is an orphan”. The headmaster retrieves his passport and the Captain (Andrey Lelyukh), gives him “the word of honor of an officer that there is no girl in the compound of the militia”. These assurances mean nothing, as both know that he is lying.

In the second story three school girls (amateur actors) wait at a bus stop for their soldier friends who bring them cigarettes and cosmetics in return for sex. The girls are aware they may be harmed when the soldiers retreat, as consorting with the enemy. A grandmother Yuliya (Matrosova), of one the girls (Anna Zhurakovskaya), recounts the past when she and her friends sat on the same bench waiting for their boyfriends to come home from work.

In the third story a Ukrainian combat medic (Oksana Cherkashyna, theater actress) brings back her lover’s headless corpse from the war zone with a male colleague and her car stalls in the freezing country road, as she yearns to make love with her companion and take a respite from the war.

In the fourth story, the grimmest one, a human rights journalist (Maryna Klimova) is detained by soldiers who attempt to rape her. One of whom (Yuri Kulinich), a separatist, brutally does and shares his childhood memory of a pet hamster who bit him so hard he made the animal drown in his own blood. The theme here is that war takes away our humanity and we become capable of doing bad things we might otherwise never do.

In the last story, the weakest, a young woman (Zoya Baranovskaya) driving in the countryside accidentally runs over a chicken. She tries to compensate the old farm couple (Oksana Voronina/Sergei Solovyov) for it, who think she has stopped here because she was raped. When told the reason, the couple try to get money from her for killing their hen.

 There are no happy stories in Bad Roads: life’s a bitch. Vorozhbit lets us know there’s only so much that can be tolerated under such harsh situations.

The ensemble cast give us a sad view of the human condition, but admirably perform.