For her debut feature, Bad Roads, which was adapted from a play she staged at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2017, writer-director Natalya Vorozhbyt chose to tell a handful of stories about the war in her native Ukraine. These are not battle stories but dark tales of how the conflict, which began in 2014 and is still ongoing, has affected civilians of the Donbass region where much of the fighting has occurred.
In an interview with THR Presents, powered by Vision Media, Vorozhbyt explains that before writing her play, which consisted of six chapters, four of which appear in the film, she traveled to Donbass to witness the conflict firsthand. At the time she was casting for another project, which led her to speak with local teenage girls who had been forced to adapt to life in a war zone, with all the horror that entails.
Those conversations make their way into the second story in Bad Roads, while the film’s suspenseful opening section packs all the tension and uncertainty of the conflict into an encounter set at a checkpoint. “It’s an entry point to a new dimension, and that’s exactly how my trip to Donbass started,” says the director. “From a place of peace, you enter something that you’ve only seen at the movies, which is war. And then you can really begin to study both the origin of evil and of goodness.”
The film’s third story is the longest and also the most difficult to watch, focusing on a female journalist (played by Maryna Klimova) held captive by a separatist soldier (Yuri Kulinich), who rapes and tortures her in an abandoned medical clinic. As she fights for her life, the journalist strikes up an extended conversation with her torturer, trying to humanize the two of them in a survival tactic that just might work.
“When I wrote that scene, I pictured myself as the victim and thought about what I would do if I were kidnapped,” Vorozhbyt explains. “I imagined that I would talk to my torturer about love and other things, and that such a strategy would win. The hardest thing was to imagine that I could forgive the person for what they had done.”
Even if it was born on the stage, Bad Roads has a very distinct pictorial style and sound design that at times recalls Andrei Tarkvosky’s Stalker, which is also set in a zone filled with constant danger and moral ambiguity. “That may have been a subconscious reference for me,” the director concludes, “but the main reference for me was real life, because I was in that zone myself, where I myself was a stalker.”
This edition of THR Presents was sponsored by Kristi Films.