Take Me For A Ride (UIO: Sácame a Pasear)

Ecuador (2016) Dir. Micaela Rueda

Another country can be marked off the list of MIB’s World Tour Of Cinema with Ecuador making its first appearance via this LGBT entry from debutant writer-director Micaela Rueda. It might not break any new ground but it reaffirms that gay issues are universal as are the way it is dealt with by people on both sides of the fence.

Sara (Samanta Caicedo) is the class pariah entering her final year of high school, forced to spend time alone with her own ways until newcomer Andrea (Maria Juliana Rangel) arrives to break this spell of seclusion. They quickly find common ground and become friends but this develops into something much more intimate which they’d rather not make public.

Running a sprightly 65-minutes, this is all the plot this film needs, meaning that it doesn’t offer any answers, solutions or indeed concrete resolutions to the problems that arise. Similarly, it means that it follows the formula of the teen girl lesbian romance to the letter, right down to the awkward early stages and the expected disapproval from parents and peers alike.

But that doesn’t mean this is a bad film either as Rueda applies her own artistic vision – dare I say “feminine” vision? – to this familiar tale to give it an air of curiosity, not to mention inviting us to watch the story unfold in the (for this writer) less often setting of Ecuador. The eye opener, as suggested earlier, is that location is irrelevant and same sex relationships face the same hurdles anywhere across the globe.  

It is not made apparent why Andrea should ignore the advice of the cool kids and gravitate towards Sara, the designated “odd girl” of the class, but we can assume it is a deep-rooted sense of individuality perhaps concomitant with her adventurous and gay side which she seems more comfortable with than Sara does.

With her short hair and slightly round features, Sara’s appearance is supposed to scream “outcast” but she isn’t gothic, punkish or outlandish enough to convince us that she isn’t just shy and awkward around others. She’s no more unusual than the other girls in the class with their make-up and spiteful behaviour. Andrea is the slimmer, pretty girl with conventional looks whose clandestine defiance is an equally safe trope but this also makes her more adorable for siding with Sara.

The lone child of a divorced couple Andrea’s tacit melancholic aura could be the driving force for whatever it is she rebelling against, and whilst we never meet her parents, the ominous cloud of strictness is ever present. Sara only has to face half this battle as her father (Diego Naranjo) is rather understanding; it is her mother (Patricia Loor) who is the controlling authority of the household.

Rueda keeps the connection between the two girls largely unspoken, leaving their body language to express their thoughts and desires, creating an enigmatic aura of freedom and youthful joy as the love blossoms. From the sneaky cigarettes at school, to the decidedly unsexy bonding over old books which Rued manages to make sneakily erotic, limited dialogue is exchanged, just enough to move things along.

Similar restraint is shown towards reaching the first kiss which takes place either in a dream or in a flashback – Rueda doesn’t make it clear which reality we are in but either way the effect is the same. It seems to come from nowhere yet is equally inevitable; it is something of a triumphant moment for the girls having already established themselves as a couple easy to root for in the face of general spite.

From here things get predictably steamy and even the short run time doesn’t prevent a tender but passionate sex scene to seal the deal, again presented intermittently with other scenes to make us wonder if this is in Sara’s head. Previously Sara has been shown pleasuring herself whilst thinking about her and Andrea at a music gig where the first kiss took place.

They leave the dance floor to find somewhere less crowded, unaware that they have been photographed until said images appear on social media. Zero damns are superficially given by Andrea but Sara is more sensitive, considering her lowly status among the classmates, and her mother’s strict hand. Perhaps Andrea’s bravado in this instance is a façade, we may never know, but she is clearly the stronger of the two.

Both young actresses are making their film debuts here, as is Rueda, and they have chosen a bold way to start their careers, not just for the subject matter but with the nudity too. But it seems that outside of Hollywood this isn’t an issue and the fact they are willing to commit to this aspect of their roles shows they believe in the art of immersing themselves for the sake of the story.

As Sara, Samanta Caicedo carries a lot of the emotional burden through her character experiencing her sexual awakening and the joy of an actual friendship, navigating the attendant pitfalls that come with it. As Sara grows in confidence so does Caicedo and by the end we realise that she has made us feel something palpable.

The path Andrea takes is sort of inverse to Sara’s in that her confidence takes a hit once the secret is out, presumably at the hands of her family, and she needs Sara to take the lead for once. Maria Juliana Rangel not only looks the part of the “butter wouldn’t melt” girl but exudes an infectious vivacity we know is natural yet beneath it lies another girl wanting to love and be loved.

Ending on an abrupt and open note is as provocative as Take Me For A Ride gets but this doesn’t lessen the fact that the preceding 60-plus minutes are buoyant with empathy and blissful tenderness in this stylish look at a teenage lesbian love affair.

A solid if conventional debut for Rueda and her two impressive leads.