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The Road: A Story of Life and Death

peggyJust like the characters in Marc Isaac’s new film The Road, I used to live along the A5 and many of the places featured in this incredible documentary are more than familiar to me. I’ve walked past the Colin Campbell and Marriot Hotel hundreds of times, but never once went inside. I’m thankful that, in his new film, Marc Isaacs’ chose to focus his piercing vision upon an area I’m deeply fond of and illuminate some of the incredible stories that were hiding from me in plain sight.

The Road: A Story of Life and Death centres on the lives of those who’ve emigrated to London and now live along the A5, an ancient road that runs from Hyde Park Corner all the way to Holyhead. The film focuses both on those starting new lives in London and those looking back on their journey, reflecting upon the reality of their lives.

On the one hand, there’s the fresh-faced young Irish woman who’s moved to Kilburn with hopes of becoming a singer. On the other, there’s the retired, alcoholic railwayman who’s joined the ranks of lonely men propping up bars along the Kilburn High Road. In between, there’s the retired air-hostess running a student board-house, the hotel manager longing for his wife, and the Jewish widow enjoying her last few days, to name but a few.

While Marc Isaacs approaches all of these people with the characteristic sensitivity we expect from him, he pushes the subject-director relationship into new realms with those at the end of their lives. Through filming he becomes their carer, picking them up when they fall and offering advice in their darkest hours. These people are more than mere characters in another film, they are people he cares deeply for, and with them he achieves a level of intimacy that is normally reserved for the closest of family. The Road is more like the director’s diary than just another slice of documentary for a jaded audience.

As incredible as each of these characters is, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they sit rather awkwardly together. It’s only Marc Isaacs’ concept of ‘the road’, one which nobody else seems to pay any mind to, which draws them together. Having said that, their isolation from each other is central to their experience of the megalopolis, and the director’s artifice is entirely necessary to explore stories that wouldn’t intertwine without a little encouragement. Not only does the A5 act as a compass with which Isaacs navigates the urban jungle, but situates this seemingly random assortment of stories within a historical narrative traced back to the 14th century, and helps emphasize the timelessness of these tales.

The Road is everything you’d expect from a film by Marc Isaacs: a thoughtful rumination on the human condition interspersed with gut-punching intensity. The Road deserves our applause as a brave and intelligent piece of film and, not only do I hope it touches a wide audience, but wish its success paves the way for many more films of its calibre.

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Jacob recently completed the MA in Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester and currently works as a qualitative researcher by day and filmmaker/film journalist by night. His favourite documentaries are The Last Train Home, Hoop Dreams, and Encounters At The End Of The World. He’s also a big fan of VICE and loves long sessions watching short documentaries.

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