Locarno 2023 review: On the Go (María Gisèle Royo & Julia de Castro)

“While the story being told is fascinating on its own terms, it is the execution that makes On the Go memorable.”

Somewhere in Spain, between the coastline and pastoral villages that are scattered across the countryside, we find three people wandering, seemingly without any discernible direction, at least not geographically. They are Milagros, her partner Jonathan and an enigmatic woman known only as La Reina de Triana. They form an unconventional ménage à trois, the roots of their relationship unclear, and not all that important. They are the protagonists of On the Go, in which directors María Gisèle Royo and Julia de Castro weave together a fascinating account of human sexuality, as seen through the perspectives of three people who are wildly different in every way yet find themselves making quite a formidable trio. Executed with a chaotic brilliance that has correlations to the beautiful cacophony of punk rock, and a film that not only allows for a sense of pure chaos but actively encourages it, On the Go is one of the more mysterious but fascinating works of the year; an oddly detailed account of several prescient themes that are laid out in vivid detail by the directors, who announce themselves as major new talents in world cinema and filmmakers with a keen eye for both visual style and narrative detail, as this film makes abundantly clear in every moment of its oddly short running time.

Narratively On the Go is a peculiar film and one that takes a while to fully comprehend, as it is truly unconventional in how it introduces many of its major ideas. Rather than establishing the plot through the usual methods, Royo and de Castro choose to immerse us in the eccentricities of the story right from the start, hoping that we will be able to situate ourselves after a while; a risky but bold approach that ultimately fits the tone of this film perfectly. Once we have made it through the initial confusion, we find that this film is essentially taking the form of an existential album of images, composed of brief glimpses into the lives of the characters. They are all from indeterminate origins, and their lives prior to our encounter with them are left entirely ambiguous, which adds a level of mystery to the story. More pedantic viewers may find value in decoding the mystery based on the small but meaningful clues peppered throughout the film. The trio at its heart are representatives of a specific generation of people, those who not only embrace a libertine approach to sexual desire but also experiment with gender and sexuality in a profoundly modern way, meaning that they are constantly shifting. On the Go captures all of these ideas with an irregular but captivating vibrancy that contributes to the dreamlike mood and perpetuates the film’s active engagement with a more offbeat attitude towards its subject matter.

While the story being told is fascinating on its own terms, it is the execution that makes On the Go memorable. There is very little one can refer to as orthodox when it comes to this film, and the directors are clearly aware of the potential for artistic pandemonium and are more than willing to embrace an abstract method of storytelling. The film feels intentionally disjointed and jagged, as if the directors are actively attempting to showcase some kind of incredulity towards social ethos and decorum. This manifests in a story that leaps liberally between scenes which we find bewildering until we simply surrender to the alternative style that drives the story. On the Go is driven less by the narrative and more by the atmosphere, with the strange tone carrying us through this offbeat version of the world. The focus constantly shifts between the main characters (portrayed brilliantly by the trio of Omar Ayuso, Chacha Huang and de Castro herself, all of whom push themselves to the cutting edge, both physically and emotionally), as well as those who exist on the periphery. It is a challenging but fruitful excursion into the human condition, which takes on a much more abstract appearance throughout this film.

At a paltry 72 minutes, there is arguably not enough time for the directors to expand on every one of the fascinating ideas they introduce. However, there is still a sense of satisfaction in how everything in this film comes together. Using these fascinating characters, On the Go proves to be a forthright examination of femininity and sexuality, taking an intersectional look at the concept of identity and desire – and much like its protagonists, this is not a film that intends to ever be categorized or labelled, meaning that any attempt to shoehorn it into a particular genre will only expose how inconsistent such classifications tend to be. Instead we can situate this film within the broad artistic canon through tenuous comparisons, with the best description here being a film that combines the guerrilla perversion and animalistic sexuality of John Waters (particularly in how it views the human body as something to be observed and admired, even in unflattering and awkward situations) with the dreamlike, ethereal mystery of Lucrecia Martel – as well as being darkly comical and truly original in its worldview, a trait of many directors who likely inspired this film. Whether or not either of these were direct influences, there is a sense of dialogue existing between On the Go and the works of pure provocation that preceded it over the years. It is a spellbinding, nonconformist drama that veers away from tradition at every opportunity, refusing to adhere to any rules, and in the process manages to be one of the more profound explorations of identity we have seen in quite a while.