SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2015
By Don Simpson | January 23, 2015
Director: Jenni Olson
At one not so distant point in the history of the United States, el camino real (spanish for “the royal road”) was a fairly direct route that connected Spanish missions from Mexico to Sonoma, California. Technically, any road under the jurisdiction of Spain was considered a camino real; this particular route has since evolved into a juggernaut of highways and local roads, marked — seemingly haphazardly — by a series of roadside bells. Though it is never directly addressed, it seems director Jenni Olson chose this specific route to address just how complicated things (eg: relationships) have become; that said, Olson freely admits that the history of The Royal Road is not quite that simple…
Olson’s voiceover narration — by way of stoically-framed postcard perspectives — dives headfirst into California’s Spanish colonial past, the American notion of “manifest destiny” and the Mexican American War. It is by no means an attractive American [his]story; certainly not one that is sold in [Texan] textbooks. Olson obviously feels guilty about her appreciation of the cinematic past, but that is only because her perspective has been admittedly filtered/altered by the lens of Hollywood [his]stories, specifically Sunset Blvd. and Vertigo.
The Royal Road is an intriguing film essay, one that will be deemed all but impenetrable by mainstream audiences. Essentially a slideshow presentation shot in the likeness of Chris Marker by way of James Benning, the individual 16mm frames of The Royal Road offer very limited movement; instead, the shots suggest an ever-mutating landscape. Olson attempts to capture the San Francisco of her romantic fantasies, but that image (like the image of el camino real) grows increasingly more complicated. Several shots are rudely — yet oh-so-purposefully — interrupted by cars or planes, thus spoiling the essence of the [perceived] tranquility of urbanity. Life’s rich pageant is skillfully extinguished; in other words, keep this oblique artfulness up and Olson will most likely never achieve commercial dominance. Regardless, Olson represents a very important voice to be heard.