My Joy: The Road Movie as National Gridlock

09/28/2011 4:00 AM |

My Joy
Directed by Sergei Loznitsa

A truck driver, Georgy (Viktor Nemets), pulls into a police checkpoint and presents his papers. In the foreground, a woman mills about by the trunk of her convertible; at the frame’s periphery, an elderly beggar walks along the other side of the highway, scouring roadside garbage. Everyone’s on their decidedly un-merry way in documentarian Sergei Loznitsa’s first narrative feature, My Joy, a formidable piece of long-take grime-house. After the policemen’s interest turns to the convertible blonde, and what she might do for them, Georgy returns to his truck, where the beggar now sits. In exchange for a ride, the old man tells a grim tale of passing through a crowded train depot (yet another checkpoint) at the end of the Second World War, a lieutenant with a suitcase full of plunder. “Since then I’ve lived without a name,” he concludes, before disembarking at a gas station that has no gas for sale.

Georgy continues on with his shipment of flour until the road, deteriorating by degrees, finally dead-ends, and thieves knock him unconscious as he’s asking for directions. He wakes up permanently disoriented, another shuffling vagrant, degraded to voluntary silence. My Joy—set in Russia, written and directed by a Belarusian, and shot in Ukraine by a Romanian cinematographer (Death of Mr. Lazarescu‘s Oleg Mutu)—itself scavenges for narrative instances of both total dereliction and official corruption, also making blunt comparisons between the remote-village present and the postwar period of lawlessness (to which the unusually structured film returns for a second story). Though it’s made up largely of digressions and disjunctures—a roadblock movie, perhaps—from the opening shot writer-director Loznitsa makes clear he’s taking aim at modern Russia’s very foundation: An unidentified corpse gets heaved into a cement mixer, and churned into the glop. Loznitsa doesn’t go in for any particularly nuanced diagnostics, but My Joy nonetheless remains a memorable jolt of a debut, a widescreen nightmare of ill will and indefinite national gridlock.

Opens September 30