On The Go (Julia de Castro, María Gisele Royo, 2023) just starts.
No faffing about, no backstory, no set-up. Jonathan (Omar Ayuso) sets fire to a bar run by a dodgy pervert and jumps in the ‘67 Corvair of his best friend Milagros (Julia de Castro). Accompanied by an Asian woman named La Reina De Triana (Chacha Huang), who claims to be a mermaid, they head into the wilderness. Sex, sunshine and self-discovery await.
Right from the opening frames of this Concorso Cineasti del presente film, we are taken right into the rich, enjoyable sun-dappled, 16mm world of Andalusia, a region where anything is possible — and conventional modes of thinking are interrogated through feminist, playful, queer, forward-thinking filmmaking. Irresistibly sexual and aesthetically sensuous, this heir to the rip-it-up-and-start-again aesthetics of Gregg Araki, the nudist portraiture of Peter Greenaway, and classic 70s Americana, is an erratic road trip into the desert that provides joy and wonder at almost every turn.
With so much contemporary cinema beholden to narrative convention — foreshadowing, conflict, resolution — it’s satisfying to watch something that cares so little about providing a traditional story. The only engines powering the film are Milagros’ desire to become pregnant and the man (Manuel de Blas) chasing Jonathan down. Eventually, a devious plan is hatched, but this is beside the free-wheeling, Godardian atmosphere that makes On The Go such a pleasurable watch.
Taking us through sand-swept dunes, rich verdant fields, the wide, infinite ocean, old-school bars and cafes, horse stables and vintage desert architecture, On The Go is populated with beautiful, eye-popping scenery; speckled with light and splotched with film grain. It is a canvas for the sexual lives of our protagonists, from the impulsive, Grindr-addicted Jonathan, to the maternal and mischievous Milagros to the odd, prophetic and also super horny La Reina De Triana, who for some reason speaks mostly English — and gets all the best lines in the process.
And while a banal, self-serious film like Passages (Ira Sachs, 2023) would have you believe that all meaningful sex on film should be shot on a static frame with no music or eroticism, the simultaneously more mature and much sillier On The Go reminds one of the fun and spontaneity of sexual interaction, especially on the big screen — using montage, juxtaposition, music and sound design to create a more immersive experience. Spontaneous edits and freeze-frames inextricably link the freedom of driving with sexual excitement; and On the Go flows with intangible, unknowable possibilities.
Of course, behind the playfulness is a more concrete message, especially regarding the pressure put on women of a certain age to have children and commitment issues between men. The film itself was created as a more feminist, inclusive update of the Spanish cult film Corridas de Alegría (Gonzalo García Pelayo, 1982, haven’t seen). But together, Milagros and Jonathan, as well as the several people they meet along the way, find their own sense of family — bonded by mutual disappointment, sunshine, sensuality and whatever else they might find on the open road. Muy maravillosa.