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Rough Road Ahead (2014)

© Jost Hering Prisma Film
© Jost Hering Prisma Film
Directed by Christian Frosch

Set in the late 60s, Rough Road Ahead follows teenage lovers Ruby and Martin who run away from home and as a consequence are sent to juvenile institutions — a convent for Ruby and a correction center for offenders for Martin — where separately they experience torture and abuse from nuns and officers. Their parents, deluded that their children are in good hands, aren't so much help. Instead of being reformed, Ruby and Martin are ill-treated and made miserable, and the only thing keeping them going is the thought that they can be together again soon, once they get out of there. Time has passed, but not without difficulty and pain. Ruby pursues her dream and becomes a singer. She and Martin meet again, but the love that used to be between them is no longer the same.

The influence of the French New Wave can easily be seen in Rough Road Ahead, especially with the soft and distinct black-and-white cinematography, jump cuts, music and poetry, references to pop culture, the ruminations on existence and politics, the boldness of youth — all of these bleed strongly onscreen, to charming effect. The style is clearly aesthetic, capturing not only the time but also the uncertainty. But beyond this, it also aspires to be something bigger, allowing the drama to dwell on the evil entrenched in large political systems, corrupting people and their futures. It only makes sense that it starts with a look into their families — the abuse Ruby receives from her father, the rebelliousness of Martin and his unpleasant relationship with his father — before putting them outside in a cruel social environment, and finally seeing them free and still unfulfilled. The writer and director Christian Frosch has tendencies to be excessive and too theatrical, but the risk is all worth it: Rough Road Ahead is satisfying in all its bleakness and despair.

by Richard Bolisay