JDIFF 2013 Review – The Road: A Story of Life and Death

Framed by the worldwide recession that has led people to move to bigger cities in search of success, The Road: A Story of Life and Death examines the lives that such people lead in a strange city, and the culture, traditions and people that they either bring with them or leave behind.

Issac starts his film with a young Irish woman, Keela, who is moving away from her home in search of a better economy and better prospects. As the film goes on, Keela falls in with the Irish in London who hold on to their culture in a way that they may have dismissed at home. This is not to say that they would have, but the fierceness with which emigrants hold onto their culture is often exaggerated.

The other “characters” in the film are older, and have established lives in London, but the tragedy that emerges is that they don’t feel like they belong in either their adopted home or the land of their birth. They are stuck somewhere in the middle, in a cultural limbo. As well as this, the people they have left behind haunt these migrants as though they have left them in a more permanent way.

The interviews are honest and often painful, but are mostly suffused with a strange kind of hope; from the woman who moved to London for love, divorced but remains living with her ex-husband, to Peggy, the elderly woman who fled Austria in WW2 and was relieved when her husband died. After the Nazis captured her mother, Peggy never saw her again but her hope is to be reunited with her when she inevitably dies. The tragedy is that she does die during filming – as does Billy, an Irish man who is heartbreakingly alone since he stopped working, so alone that it was Isaac who discovered his body – but this serves to underline the loss of a sense of homeland in the film.

As well as this, the film subtly examines the notions of home, and how the migrants manage to settle in their adopted cities. Does home mean culture or traditions? The film certainly focuses on religious, culinary and work rituals that migrants hold on to, and subtly poses the question as to how much of our identity is tied up in ritual.

Of course the documentary is not definitive, but this highly subjective film is a fascinating snapshot of people who mourn their homelands throughout their entire lives. Isaac has created a timely film that examines the lives of economic migrants, but since many of the stories are still being lived, the picture is not complete.

The Road: A Story of Life and Death truly is a story of life and death, told in frank and often upsetting way. The film feels inspired by the recession that has caused a huge migration of people and Isaac’s careful examination of the reasons that people leave home and whether they mourn it is touching, upsetting and feels deeply personal.

Rating: 4/5

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