Sundance Film Festival
Like Los Angeles Plays Itself by way of Ross McElwee, Jenni Olson’s The Royal Road surveys the landscape of Southern California as a way of exploring her past relationship troubles. That may sound like the sort of arty navel-gazing that many viewers are allergic to, but this is an utterly transfixing piece of work. The 16mm cinematography of Los Angeles and San Francisco is gorgeous and hypnotic, and it’s more than just pretty pictures. Olson’s narration works in concert with the architecture and geography, sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly. She purposefully establishes herself as a “shadow” – her voice is heard but she is unseen, and in fact, the whole film is bereft of human presence. She is, in a way, becoming the film, holding a conversation with the audience. Olson talks not just about her often tempestuous romantic misadventures but about Vertigo, the Spanish conquest and subsequent American annexation of the American Southwest, nostalgia and how we process it and many more ideas.