Hit The Road

Reviewed by Ian Payne

A recurring feature of this season's Keswick Film Club programme has been the prominence of child actors in leading roles and the outstanding performances they gave.

We have seen an amazingly assured Frankie Corio in Aftersun playing opposite Paul Mescal; there were the two thoroughly convincing young actresses playing Hasna and Mariam on the mean streets of Paris in You Resemble Me; the feisty Jean in last week's Charcoal. At the Film Festival Hassan Nazer coaxed a lovely performance by the lad playing Yahya on the waste tips of rural Iran; there was the mischievous Hae-jin from Broker and from Bhutan, young Pem Zam, the class captain, lit up the screen in Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom – despite never having seen a camera before.

Then there was Hit the Road, the final Keswick Film Club screening of the season, featuring another central performance from a young boy, known only as Little Brother, played by Rayan Sarlak.

It was a film that tackled some troubling and profound issues. Set in Iran, a family risks everything to get their eldest son out of the country, before he receives his Summons, presumably for National Service. A long road trip to the border ensues, where the family is to meet up with the smugglers who will spirit away the elder brother. We see the mother's grief for the impending separation from her son, the age-old difficulties of father and son communicating with each other, all interspersed with some random comic moments along the way.

The fourth member of the party is Little Brother, a hyperactive eight (or so) year old, ricocheting around the vehicle at never less than full volume. The script called for an annoying character and young Rayan delivered that in spades – if he was acting, he deserves an Oscar. Unfortunately, his scenes were so annoying they distracted from the wider narrative by making it harder to engage with the other main players.

Ultimately Hit the Road could not make up its mind as to what sort of film it wanted to be – a road trip, a family drama, a political statement or a comedy and in trying to be all four it sadly missed the mark.