Russia, 1999, 56 mins.
More than any other contemporary documentarist, Sergey Dvortsevoy knows how to capture the magical moments of life. Once again (after Paradise and Bread Day) the Russian director proves that he can capture simple life lived by people far away from the big cities. And not only capture this life, but also interpret it so it becomes beautiful to watch.
There is nothing sensational going on, nothing at all, in this film where the protagonists are members of a circus family: father, mother and a handful of children. They travel along the road, do their show in front of a limited audience and get into their old, rusty bus to move on. They live an unbelievably tough life 2300 km away from Moscow. It is extremely hot and the bus disappears into the horizon.
The magical moments grow out of a minimalist style, with long takes and a constant insistence on and belief in time. The director waits for the right moment to come forward, the moment that changes the observation into something more profound, that we all can identify with. Even if it may seem exotic to follow a travelling circus family through dusty deserts, these moments are close to us in their universality. It´s always done with respect and distance, and sometimes with a touch of humour – like when the father and his eldest take their turns with the crank to make the bus motor start.
In Paradise the children play with a cow whose head gets caught in a milk can. In Bread Day the goats kiss, and in Highway an eagle is taken by the children to accompany them. The eagle becomes a sort of witness to this hard life, but it keeps its pride – like the family does. This is also a life and it has its beauty; watch it! This is the invitation that the director extends.
In Paradise the mother combs her hair, singing, while the rest of the family sleeps. In Highway the same situation unfolds. The mother sings her baby to sleep while the rest of the family sleeps in the bus. The camera frames the family in the bus. At first it looks like a family sleeping, which it is, but gradually we realize that the image is also almost a still life.
The camera makes a 360-degree rotation to observe whether anything happens. Or is it a symbolic movement to protect what actually happens in a circus family far away from Western civilisation?