Review: Eyes on the Road (2019)

Screenshot from “Eyes on The Road” by Stefanie Kolk

In teenagers’ world, silence is often the most unpleasant thing in the world, so the conversation has to go on, even in a confined space like a car that glides down the road on the way back from a festival or a camping trip. And the conversations can lead in the unexpected directions, driving rifts between the group of friends. That is the case with Stefanie Kolk’s short Eyes on the Road. The film premiered last year at Locarno and is shown at this year’s online edition of VIS, in Closeness and Distance program slot of the international competition.

We meet Menna (Sinem Kavus), Indy (Olivia Lonsdale) and Alex (Frieda Barnhard) on their “toilet pause” happening in the wooded area on the side of the road, filmed in a single static shot. The teenagers are evidently able to share intimacy when it comes to bodily fluids, which will be confirmed later on in the film, when the two friends are holding the third’s head while she is throwing up.

The rest of the film is, however, taking place in the car during the trip. The trio talks about two of their absent friends, Tim and Nisa, and the experience that traumatized them both and left the mark within the wider circle, including the three girls in the car. The topic is quite sensitive and it happens that Indy and Alex defend different positions, while Menna is driving and has to keep her eyes on the road (“and the hands behind the wheel”, as Jim Morrison would say), so she cannot engage fully in the conversation. Would the unpleasant conversation and the things spoken threaten the friendship?

Stefanie Kolk proves to be a very capable storyteller, especially when it comes to leading the conversation between her characters in an interesting way and withholding the crucial information for a long enough period of time. She is also a director that enjoys to work with the actors, since all three of the young actresses are relaxed and confident in the way they are handling their characters, which could be tricky in a number of long, uninterrupted takes with the long lines of dialogue to be spoken. However, Kolk’s directing skills seem especially stellar when it comes to maintaining the dynamism in a small, cramped space: Martijn Melis’ camera often goes outside the car, particularly in the quiet moments, captures the bright summer colours even when the lights refract through the car windows and the atmosphere of a long, hot summer in the circle of friends facing the rough and tough world for the first time.

Original title: Eyes on the Road
Year: 2019
Runtime: 16′ 44”
Country: The Netherlands
Language: Dutch
Directed by: Stefanie Kolk
Written by: Stefanie Kolk
Cast: Frieda Barnhard, Olivia Lonsdale, Sinem Kavus
Cinematography by: Martijn Melis
Editing by: Maarten Ernest
Music by: Jelle Verstraten, Arend Bruijn, Hans Nieuwenhuissen
Sound design by: Jacob Oostra
Production design by: Esra Ghilane
Make-up: Judith van Belle, Alisa Durgun
Assistant director: Gregory Samson
Produced by: Miel van Welzen
Production company: Newsams Film Company