We Can't Say What We've Seen: Road to Nowhere 

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Road to Nowhere
Directed by Monte Hellman

Monte Hellman's reputation rests on the artful touch he brought to tough genre pictures of the mid-60s to mid-70s, from Dostoyevskian Western The Shooting to minimalist road race joint Two-Lane Blacktop. But Road to Nowhere—his first feature in 22 years—arrives as a shock, as if Samuel Fuller had directed an Antonionian take on Inland Empire.

Written by Variety executive editor and longtime Hellman collaborator Steven Gaydos, Road concerns the making of a synonymously titled Hollywood film, adapted by idealistic young director Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan; note his character's initials) from the journalistic inquiries of a North Carolina blogger (Dominque Swain) into the suspicious double suicide of a corrupt local politician (Cliff De Young) and his beautiful young accomplice (Shannyn Sossamon). For this femme fatale Haven casts an unknown actress (also Sossamon) with whom he falls in love and who quickly starts asserting influence on the production to protect her mysterious past.

Road questions the limitless ways truth is obscured, manipulated and erased in the process of translating it to the big screen. What makes the film rich—if derivative—is the way its very structure evokes the disorientation of such slippage: there are movies within movies here, roles within roles, and due to jigsaw-puzzle editing and ambiguously placed flashbacks the viewer often wonders if he's watching "what really happened," some adulterated cinematic version of it, or out-and-out fantasy and speculation.

Hellman nearly sabotages the meta-noir by overselling its brooding atmosphere, deflating scenes with pointless dead time. But through ironically subdued performances (the flipside of the Antonionian coin) he so tenderly captures the tragic naivety of Haven's attempt to grasp reality—and romance—via moviemaking that one can't help read an autobiographical strain into Road's labyrinthine tale of exile in Tinseltown.

Opens June 10

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