10 of The Most Unconventional Road Movies of The 20th Century

6. The Journey (1992, Fernando Solanas)

Martin spends his days in the southernmost city in the world, attending a school that looks like a prison where paranormal events happen. He has no idea what to do when he finishes school and misses his father, who abandoned him to travel. The last thing Martin knew about him was a comic that he sent from his travels through Latin America.

The cold of Ushuaia, the bad relationship with his stepfather, and a tragic experience with his girlfriend will motivate him to escape to Buenos Aires. Riding a bicycle and using the comics as a clue, Martin will go in search of his father.

The trip will serve to uncover the raw Latin American reality that he doesn’t know, like corruption, ideological imposition, cynical governments, labor exploitation, ignorance, and land selling. The odyssey of finding his father will turn harder, dragging him through Peru, Brazil and Colombia.

Despite being deeply political, it doesn’t fall into a realistic construction. Metaphor, irony, and magical realism appear at all times to distance the viewer. This Latin American collage, fantastic and baroque, is an allegory that invites new generations to recover the memory of popular struggles and become aware. Martin realizes that he no longer wishes to find his father, because he found his roots – his Latin American identity.


7. Even the Cowgirls Get The Blues (1994, Gus Van Sant)

Sissy (Uma Thurman) was born with a physical quirk: having abnormally large thumbs. This deformity, instead of becoming a trauma, becomes a tool to fulfill her hitchhiker dream. So she travels the world in record time, developing an incomparable power to stop passing cars. Her unconventional lifestyle makes her a woman with difficulties in finding a relationship, but after an invitation to film an ad on a ranch, she will meet a group of rebellious cowgirls and will join their radical feminist collective, falling in love with the leader, Bonanza Jellybean.

This is an adaptation of a novel written by Tom Robbins in 1976, which dealt with the feminist and hippie movements of the time. Gus Van Sant decided to adapt it, becoming a major disaster after its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. The director was forced to make a new edited version, where he eliminated scenes and created a voiceover by the same author of the novel, to connect the new plot. But still, it is considered one of his worst movies.

This lunatic fantasy doesn’t have an established course and seems to be the same as Sissy, always moving from one side to the other, without establishing roots in any of the topics it deals with.


8. Natural Born Killers (1994, Oliver Stone)

natural born killers

After a tempestuous childhood, Mickey and Mallory Knox decide to escape on a bloody journey committing crimes that, by their magnitude, will awake the interest of a journalist, converting them into real celebrities. Behind all the frenzy of violence that the film shows, there is harsh criticism of the tabloid press that educates the veneration of a depraved and violent society.

The multiplicity of formats such as animation and videoclip, the visual pyrotechnics that go from black and white to color, the fusion of genres such as western, comedy and film noir, and the dizzying montage of more than 3,000 cuts confront us to an exaggerated and unreal mise-en-scene, similar to what would be a continuous zapping, where as spectators we can feel impressed or saturated.

Stone went far beyond Tarantino’s script and installed a superlative, radical, and avant-garde visual experience that would bluntly destroy any notion of conventional narrative. According to him, this film would remain fresh even 20 years after its premiere and it was true.

This film is a portrait of how television is the true opium of modernity.


9. Stranger Than Paradise (1984, Jim Jarmusch)

Stranger Than Paradise

Divided into three acts, we follow the misadventures of Willie, Eva and Eddie through New York, Cleveland and Florida.

Eva, the Hungarian cousin of Willie, visits him in New York. As Willie insists on adopting an American lifestyle, Eva speaks to him in Hungarian, reminding him of his roots. He is constantly invalidating her music or way of dressing, just as Eva rejects his way of eating or his hobbies. Despite the differences, Willie and Eddie feel with enough confidence to visit Eva in Cleveland. But the cold of Cleveland doesn’t allow much more to do than to play cards or watch kung fu movies. Finally, the three of them decide to go in search of paradise on a dream vacation to Florida. But it all goes wrong.

With a minimalist staging and exquisite black and white, we are facing a film full of dead times, without a dramatic development. The shots are isolated pieces where the action is interrupted by black interludes, creating a discontinuous narration. Undoubtedly, the achievement of Jim Jarmusch’s style is the pleasure found in the monotony of life that his credible characters lead.

Along this journey through post-industrial America, we can conclude that all the places seem to be the same. From Cleveland’s snow to Florida’s beaches, there’s little difference because the characters’ existential tedium doesn’t allow them to find anything new. Uprooting is geographic and emotional. Paradise never comes to these strangers who live in exile from themselves, wandering aimlessly without jobs or a future.


10. Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989, Aki Kaurismaki)

Leningrad Cowboys Go America

Putting aside his recurring portrayal of the working class in Helsinki, Kaurismaki creates this absurd epic about an unsuccessful fictional rock band, The Leningrad Cowboys, who decide to seek luck in America. Following the false promises of their manager, they leave their rural Siberian village to travel through North America. With the deceased bassist as a luggage, they perform in bars and adapt to the local tastes of each city, absorbing a variety of styles such as rockabilly and country music.

The hybridization between Soviet and American cultural elements cause dissonance and surrealism. Despite the cowboys trying to adapt to their surroundings by learning English and exchanging their accordions for guitars, it is only momentary because when their Siberian authenticity barely flourishes, they are rejected for the strangeness of their appearance. They always end up clinging to the remains of their homeland, in an attempt to persevere in their own identity. Fur coats, pointy shoes, strange hairstyles, and a devotion for beer.

Such was the success of the critics that Kaurismaki decided to make a second film about the band. The Leningrad Cowboys became a real band that has their own albums and tours around the world.