There’s something magical about an old-fashioned road trip.
Before I start to wax lyrical about hitting the highway with nowhere to go but anywhere (while Jack Kerouac begins to roll in his grave) let’s acknowledge that for a bunch of you, even roadies are out of the question. But lockdown won’t last forever, so whether you’re about to hit the bitumen or just dreaming about it, you should definitely give some of these classic road trip films some airtime.
Y Tu Mama También
Starting off with Alfonso Cuarón’s reimagining of the American road movie, Y Tu Mama También. Referring to this film simply as a road movie would almost be a disservice—it’s also coming of age tale with a socially aware backdrop, and sex scenes hotter than an egg on the bonnet of a car in Death Valley. Raging hormonal teenagers Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) set off on the road trip of their lives, partly due to their escapades with beautiful older travel companion, Luisa (Maribel Verdú). The entire film was shot on a handheld camera with improvised dialogue between the characters (Garcia Bernal and Luna were close friends before the film, so it barely feels like they’re following a script) making you feel as if your lounge room armchair is actually the passenger seat in a beat-up car, hurtling through Mexican townships. Besides, what’s not to enjoy about watching three people discover a utopic beach in Oaxaca and getting blind drunk on tequila?
The Motorcycle Diaries
Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries is to Latin America what Jack Kerouac’s On The Road was to America—a revolutionary road trip that brought to the surface the beauty and tragedy of the land. There’s a lot that could be said about the political and social significance of Che Guevara (played by Gael García Bernal) and friend Granado’s (Rodrigo de la Serna who, in a weird twist of fate, is Che Guevara’s actual second cousin) journey from Argentina to Peru, but that’s best left to the movie itself. But what you should know, is that the film shows off the continent in a way that would have had tourism boards putting their feet up and watching the pesos roll in back in 2004—from the Atacama Desert to Machu Picchu, it captures the most scenic spots from a journey that took Guevara eight months, 14,000 kilometres, and a whole lotta cojones to complete. Needless to say, if at the end of the film you don’t have even the slightest inclination of buying a bike and hitting the road, you might need to check your pulse.
Faces Places sees an unlikely friendship between iconic French director Agnes Varda (also known as the ‘grandmother of French New Wave’) and French street artist JR, 55 years her junior. The pair travel the French countryside in JR’s ‘Inside Out’ van creating art and ruminating on life—a film that’s become all the more profound after Varda’s passing in 2019 at 90 years of age. You won’t find famous landmarks or luxurious locales in Faces Places, but that’s the beauty of it. The villages they travel through are about as far from the tourist trail as you can get, showcasing a side of regional France that’s not opulent enough for the guidebooks, but possesses its own kind of magic anyway.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Forget Baz Luhrman’s Australia—Priscilla Queen of the Desert is the travel brochure you need of the lucky country, so jump on board the big pink bus and let three flamboyant drag queens play guide. To think that this groundbreaking LGBTQ film was made in 1994 is pretty mind-blowing (keep in mind this was 23 years before gay marriage was legalised in Australia and homophobic slurs were still apart of everyday vernacular). But break ground it did, as well as showcasing to the world that Australia is way more than just bronzed, Anglo-Saxon lifeguards on Bondi Beach. It’s only fitting that the trio started their road trip from Sydney’s famed Oxford Street, followed by a month’s long journey en route to their final destination—a drag show in Alice Springs in the far north of the country. The bigoted locals they encounter on the way won’t sell you on the idea of a trip through the great Australia Outback, but the landscapes and culturally-rich Indigenous communities they travel through on the way will.
Terrence Malick’s Badlands is a road trip movie of a different kind. While 15-year-old Holly (Sissy Spacek) and Kit (Martin Sheen) are on a roadie of sorts from South Dakota to Saskatchewan, they’re not exactly checking into Airbnbs and having a gander at local tourist attractions; but fair enough, as they’re on the run from the law after killing Holly’s father and faking their own suicides. Making their way towards the badlands of Montana, they find refuge in treehouses and mansions, the pair too psychotic to draw comparisons to similar on-the-run road trips films like Bonnie and Clyde. A sinister story that plays out across the dry, expansive backdrop of the American midwest, it’s a must-watch before any great American roadie.