EIFF: ‘Romantic Road’ is a Delightful Documentary About Love and Adventure

Plenty of Oliver McGarvey’s documentary, Romantic Road, revolves around the bond between married couple, Rupert and Jan Grey, as they travel around India in his father’s 1936 Rolls Royce. However, the title is also a nod to how the Greys, and McGarvey in turn, often, but not always, romanticize the country they travel through, the people they meet along the way, the bonds that they make, and the risk-taking and adventure that is their story. Despite being McGarvey’s directorial debut, he does a great job at bringing both meanings of the title, Romantic Road to life. The film is intense when it needs to be, but the vast majority is a beautiful, heartwarming and humorous experience as we follow Jan and Rupert Grey on their nearly six month adventure.

From the film’s primary romantic perspective, we follow Jan and Rupert Grey as they grow and bond together over the span of the trip. Throughout the film, both of them continue to insist that neither of them would have gone through with this trip if the other didn’t come along, and that mentality shows throughout the film. Both of them are always enabling and supporting each other as the trip goes on, and it’s clear that they want each other to be happy. We also get a chance to see them together as they enjoy the sights around them, such as a stroll through a rain forest towards the end of their trip. McGarvey then takes some time to develop both of them through interviews with close friends and family. From this, we get a very good idea about who they are and how they complete each other. Unfortunately, we hardly get to hear from Jan in interviews. In the Q&A after the film, McGarvey claims that she was rather shy during filming, which is a shame because it would’ve been nice to hear more from her perspective.

McGarvey also mentioned that he had little to no experience with digital cameras during shooting, and while it shows in the sometimes grainy camerawork, it’s more often than not that the cinematography does an incredible job at transforming the journey into an experience for the audience. The overall strength of the cinematography is that it feels as personal as it needs to without being more than flies on the wall. The landscape shots of India are truly breathtaking, as they bring a whole new beauty to the country. He also takes a lot of time to capture the beauty of everyone that Jan and Rupert meet along the way. It almost feels like we’re seeing the sights in the same way that the Greys are seeing them, because they are taking in every single moment of this trip, and McGarvey’s cinematography is replicating that. However, the highlights of his camera work are the driving shots. These are often some of the riskiest shots in the film, especially when McGarvey is up on top of the car filming as they are driving down some of the most narrow or dangerous roads on their journey. Not only does this show that he’s willing to risk his life to get these shots, but it also adds to the film’s theme of embracing adventure to full extents.

Talking of risks, McGarvey flat out admits that there are plenty of risks, mainly physical, that stand in the way of Jan and Rupert Grey’s journey. However, there is one that truly stands out, and that would be the relationship between India and the British, especially considering how recently their ruling in India ended. McGarvey even discusses this risk with actor Ankur Vikal (Slumdog Millionaire), who brings to light the unfortunate fact that the white British man is still seen as superior due to recent history. However, the Greys don’t want to be seen as superior, and they show this by treating everyone they encounter as equals and friends. McGarvey doesn’t make it the overall point of the film, because the main point is their journey, but it’s highly commendable for him to take the time to at least bring it up. While this obviously won’t be the film to mend that overall relationship, it’s at least heartwarming to see that despite driving around in a car that was built in the British Raj era, they don’t want to be seen as superior.

We often think of the term “romantic” as a word of endearment referring to an idealized love for someone, but rarely do we see it anymore as a love for something. Oliver McGarvey’s film most certainly follows our primary perception of romantic in the way we watch a slice of Rupert and Jan Grey’s marriage on screen. With that said, it’s also more than evident that McGarvey craves the best of both worlds as he wants to show off their love for adventure, risks and India. Like most directorial debuts, it’s not a perfect experience, but Romantic Road is primarily a wonderfully personal and heartfelt piece about two bold and exciting people.

Grade: B+

(Featured Image: Romantic Road, Rover Films)

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