The Indonesians have a concept called nongkrong. To nongkrong is to meet and talk, preferably in large groups, and about nothing in particular. I first came across it last summer on a trip to Documenta, a contemporary art fair that’s taken place since 1955 in Kassel, in Germany, but only once every 5 years. The festival’s new curators were ruangrupa from Indonesia, a collective that almost never produces physical works, instead creating spaces for meetings and discussions: a kind of nongkrong as installation. Every room that you walked into at Documenta was full of nongkrong: bits and bobs on the floor, idea bubbles, and word maps on the walls, artist statements that ran a country mile. The festival estimated that the culminated work last year was the product of no less that 1,500 participants. The results were lively and cacophonous. I felt next to nothing.
I couldn’t help but briefly think about ruangrupa while reading about On the Go, a film described in its own press notes as “a feminine, non-exclusive project that understands the need for a structural change considered from a collaborative experience.” It’s written and directed by Maria Gisele Royo and Julia De Castro; the latter of whom also stars as Milagros, a famous DJ who, having reached a certain age, has become determined to get pregnant. Not satisfied with the choice of inseminators on offer, she hops in a ’67 Covair bound for Sevilla with a friend in tow. He’s named Jonathan (Elite’s Omar Ayuso, resplendent in Adidas tracks) and he’s on the run for arson and larceny, with an elderly victim hot on his trail. When Jonathan opens Grindr to find a lover along the way, Milagros spots an opportunity to find her sperm.
On the Go is a road movie and its directors gleefully follow the genre’s rules, or lack thereof: characters arrive with no requirement for backstory and leave just as abruptly, and if ever a scene begins to drag, our heroes are quickly back behind the wheel and headed for the horizon—this thing’s engine is always running. In one curious detour, we see a man surgically removing fish hearts in order to cultivate what look like tiny mermaids. In another, Johnathan enjoys a heaving orgy, where new friends keep seeming to arrive at the door in slow motion, like all the pals coming to see Frodo at the end of Return of the King. In the film’s best sequence, we witness two motorway cops being disarmed with a kind of mermaid mind trick right before a short but genuinely thrilling musical interlude by the artist Miguelito Garcia. In terms of visual flourish, a late excursion to a bird sanctuary betters it.
There’s no shortage of spontaneity to De Castro and Royo’s gung-ho approach. It does, however, occasionally run the risk of looking careless. Their film is refreshingly blasé and joyful with regards to sex and nudity, but Milagros’ fixation on fertility—a relatively novel and piquant provocation in this kind of movie—seems under-explored. Trickier still is the introduction of Milagros and Jonathan’s other companion: a mermaid (or something like that) named The Triana’s Queen (Chacha Huang, a lively if limited presence) who brings a kind of energy that is at best manic pixie and at worst a little exotic. That The Triana’s Queen is the only central arc left unresolved doesn’t help.
Otherwise, Royo and De Castros’ film is propulsive enough to keep one engaged: a self-aware exploitation throwback, perhaps, but a largely pleasing one nonetheless. The filmmakers have presented it as an homage to Gonzalo García Pelayo‘s Corridas de Alegría, a 1982 film about a convict driving through Andalusia trying to find his girlfriend—a Spanish cult classic that they believe to be misunderstood. Back in Documenta, ruangrupa wrote of the “much-needed dissolution of ownership and authorship” in art. Royo and De Castros can take a similar line in their promotional material but cinema can’t help but tend toward a defined perspective, and thankfully so. On the Go is cacophonous and scattershot, but unmistakably the product of its writer-directors’ passions and experiences. It isn’t perfect, but it certainly makes you feel something.
On the Go premiered at the Locarno Film Festival.