out of Five
Running time: 75
Powerful, thought-provoking and deeply moving documentary that creates a vivid portrait of London life and will make you pay more attention to the people you pass every day.
What's it all about?
Directed by Marc Isaacs (whose wonderful 25 minute short Lift is well worth checking out on YouTube), The Road: A Story of Life and Death explores the immigrant experience as seen through the lives of six people living along the A5, who have all chosen to settle in London. The road itself is known for some of its length as Watling Street and stretches from Marble Arch to Holyhead in Wales, the main point of arrival for Irish immigrants.
The first person we meet is teenager Keelta O'Higgins, who travels from Ireland to London in the hopes of becoming a singer and ends up pulling pints in Cricklewood, singing to the regulars of an Irish pub. One of said regulars is Billy Leahy, an alcoholic who's struggling with life after the loss of his job as a construction worker.
The other subjects of the film include: 95 year old Peggy Roth, an elderly Viennese Jewish woman who settled in London after escaping the Nazis in Austria; German former air hostess Birgitte, who now runs a hostel for language students and still lives with her ex-husband Royston; hotel receptionist Iqbal, who is waiting for his wife to join him from Kashmir and patiently jumping through all the necessary bureaucratic hoops; and Nom Rajj, a Burmese student who joins a Buddhist monastery during the course of the film.
Isaacs has an extraordinary ability to get deeply personal confessions from his subjects, something that was already clear in Lift, where he spent months with a camera in a lift in an East London tower block, gradually earning the trust of the various residents. At any rate, that ability is strongly in evidence here and the stories from The Road's subjects are deeply moving, containing moments of both hope (Iqbal and his wife) and utter despair (Billy). Fortunately, there are also moments that are laugh-out-loud funny, such as an off-camera Isaacs asking Peggy about her late husband and receiving a distinctly unexpected reply or Birgitte's faces to camera when a distinctly unimpressed Royston starts getting a bit grumpy.
It's worth pointing out that the title of the film delivers on its promise, since two of its subjects don't make it to the end of the film. On top of that, the contrast between the two deaths is utterly shattering; one was much loved and is celebrated with a funeral and a wake; the other dies almost unnoticed and Isaacs (who found the body) wonders how long they might have lain undiscovered if he hadn't been filming them.
The Road: A Story of Life and Death is a powerful and deeply moving documentary that confirms Marc Isaacs as a British talent to watch. Recommended.
The Road: A Story Of Life And Death (PG)