The French Road, Detroit MI
"What´s going on here?"
"No, I´m an artist from Austria interested in your street racing culture."
Transpiring in the dark night of a city later identified as Detroit, Michigan, this conversation serves as a kind of establishing shot introducing the theme of Arthur Summereder´s The French Road: illegal auto races held at night on regular public streets. The darkness that perfectly obscures these races simultanously indicates problematics of representation: How do you represent a ritual, a culture, a community that firstly does not want to be shown, and secondly, is not your own – a world briefly encountered that remains foreign. How to show something without falling into the trap of an exoticising gaze? To this end the artistic intervention that provides the context remains offscreen: the city, location and protagonists are present, but are never seen.
This dialogue in the dark makes it clear the filmmaker can only represent an intruder - "I´m givin´ you a warning, man. This is Detroit," - and is followed by a shot that is both concrete and abstract. It shows the surface of a vertically tilted street covered with marks revealing various forms of use inscribed over the course of time: tire tracks and black rubber abrasions, white road markings, manhole covers and strips of tar used to repair ruptures in the asphalt. This geology of the road surface unexpectadely exhibits signs of the socio-economic and historical context: The street in The French Road is far off the beaten track of the road movie and counter-cultural mythology, serving both as expression and impression of a city that rose and declined together with the auto industry, ironically no longer capable of affording to maintain its infrastructure. What remains is atmospheric: the sounds of starting motors, screeching tires, a police siren and the chirping of crickets in the Summer night. (Claudia Slanar)
Translation: Eve Heller
The French Road