MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 17, 2023: RODEO
In director Lola Quivoron’s compelling drama Rodeo — which won the Coup de Coeur prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival — Julia (Julie Ledru) finds joy and freedom behind the handlebars of a motocross dirt bike, soaring down rural French roads with the wind in her hair and a grin on her face. But these moments of escape are hard to find in a world that wants to limit her at every turn.
Julia is brash and independent, fierce and prickly. She gets into fights, she doesn’t have a good relationship with her family, and her friends seem few and far between, but she loves to ride. She sets her sights on joining a crew that participates in illegal dirt bike rodeos, but she finds it difficult to garner the male riders’ attention or respect. Only Abra (Dave Nsaman) treats her with kindness, taking her under his wing at a rodeo and showing her some tricks. Things quickly turn south when the cops show up, and Abra is badly injured, but the ensuing chaos puts Julia smack in the middle of the crew’s business.
Julia’s ability to charm sellers of used bikes into letting her try them out as a potential buyer … and then zip off down the road without paying them a cent makes her useful to Domino (Sébastien Schroeder), the incarcerated but still very involved leader of this Fast and Furious-like group, which steals bikes and resells them. Julia finds herself growing closer both to crew member Kaïs (Yannis Lafki), who seems to admire her grit and spirit, and Domino’s skittish wife, Ophélie (Antonia Buresi). But relationships are complicated in the crew’s world, and there are others who resent Julia’s success — and her very existence — and will do anything to get her out of the way.
Quivoron was inspired to make the film by her own experiences in the urban rodeo world and cast many non-professional actors to tell this story, which is her first feature-length drama. The result is a powerfully realistic film that succeeds both on Quivoron’s skill and Ledru’s excellent performance. Julia is a complex, complicated woman who’s both worldly and touchingly naive. She may frustrate you, she may delight you — but she’ll never bore you. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nell Minow: The restless, intimate , documentary-style camera work vividly evokes the almost-feral nature of this world, the need to be always alert, always tough enough to be included but not so tough as to provoke aggression. Beautiful, sensitive work from Julie Ledru shows us that it takes an open and vulnerable actress to create a character who is so guarded.
Sherin Nicole To paraphrase Three 6 Mafia, “it’s hard out here for a sis.” Each cascading moment in Rodeo feels inevitable. As though Julia, our ‘gangster bae’ styled protagonist, who is possessed with a skill for riding and for boosting motorbikes, has no choice but to careen towards burnout. Symbolically and narratively, that is the fate of women in director Lola Quivoron’s crime & testosterone fueled underworld. Julia’s options are meager, which supports a growing bond with Ophélie (Antonia Buresi), an older woman who is trapped within the same cycle. The environment surrounding them, makes their understated yet sisterly relationship a relief but also a sadness. Ultimately, our high hopes for Julia, played with verve by newcomer Julie Ledru, keep us tethered to the action, while we urge her to swerve.
Leslie Combemale A percussive score adds to the intensity of Lola Quivoron’s slow-burn action-er, which plays as both a cautionary tale and a cynical fable about women living fast on their own terms. It wouldn’t work nearly as well without Julie Ledro, and her portrayal as the lead character Julia, or “unknown”. Julia knows there’s no real place for her in a male-dominated world where she is meant to either be invisible or as much a plaything as the bikes she rides. Celebrated upon its release at Cannes, Rodéo is a film that will stay with you, and one hopes is a portent of good things to come for Ledru and Quivoron.
Jennifer Merin Rodeo is an enthralling character-driven thriller. The narrative follows Julia’s unrelenting determination to be somebody, even if that somebody is female “thug.” The narrative is infused with details that suggest how Julia got to be who she is and how she figures out where she wants to go. Lola Quivoron takes a tough, confrontational theme and turns it into an emotion-grabbing character study of a young woman who, against all odds, uses her wits to triumph. Read full review.
Loren King Lola Quivoron’s gritty, incandescent feature from France is immersed in what’s likely an unfamiliar subculture for most viewers: disenfranchised youths who steal motorbikes and race them. The machismo and aggression of the male bikers is countered by the film’s fierce lead, Julia who goes by the moniker Unknown and played by magnetic newcomer Julie Ledru who also performs her own stunts. Julia boldly scams internet bike sellers by convincing them she’s going for a test drive and then speeding away with joyful abandon. Seeking a place to belong, she falls in with a gang of stunt riders who engage in increasingly dangerous activities at the cell phone direction of their incarcerated leader, Domino. A few of the guys treat the swaggering Julia as an equal; others resent her and call her a witch, a sexist insult that has chilling resonance later. Director Quivoron shoots in a raw, realistic style but there are moments of poignancy mixed with the action and, later, the tension of an edge-of-the-seat heist. Ledru is a revelation, finding unexpected tenderness and empathy with a character surviving on the fringes particularly in her scenes with Domino’s wife, played by co-writer Antonia Buresi as the two marginalized women find a common bond.
Sandie Angulo Chen: French director Lola Quivoron’s feature debut Rodeo is a gripping and gritty look at a young woman whose only joy is riding (and stealing) motorbikes. Non-professional actor Julie Ledru plays Julia (who rides under the moniker “Unknown”), a scrappy Afro-Caribbean French woman uninterested in traditional day jobs, societal niceties, or romantic relationships. The performance is nuanced, following Unknown as she ingratiates herself with a diverse motocross gang that operates a chop shop garage. Like many French films about people of color living in the Parisian suburbs, Rodeo leans into the protagonist’s disenfranchisement, as well as her obvious need for a found family. Unfortunately, illegal motorbike racing isn’t a subculture that’s inclusive toward women, so Unknown’s presence in the garage is met with a fair share of toxic masculinity. Although I wish Quivoron and co-writer Antonia Buresi (who gives a notable performance as the incarcerated garage owner’s wife, Ophelie) had included more about Julia’s past, this is ultimately a look at how the young woman’s freedom is on the back of a bike.
Cate Marquis Julia just wants to ride. Her motorbike. And pop wheelies. Julia (Julie Ledru) is a young Afro-Caribbean woman living impoverished with her mother and younger brother in public housing in a French suburb. She doesn’t get along with her mother (who we never see) and brushes aside warnings from her high schooler brother about her bad behavior. Indeed, Julia is surly, angry and independent but mostly she is just loves motorcycles and longs to ride. Upset after someone steals her motorcycle, she scams a man selling one on social media out of his (we aren’t sure if it is her missing bike but it could be). With her new bike, Julia makes her way to a gathering of stunt riders, called a rodeo, on a country road but she is rebuffed by the riders in the male-dominated sport. Finally one of them is kind to the newbie and agrees to show her the basics of popping wheelies. It opens a door for her, and she finds herself falling in with a group of stunt riders who work at a chop shop. But what looks to her like an escape from her unhappy home and a chance to ride, sends her down a path with other dangers. Julie Ledru does an impressive job portraying Julia, who longs for the freedom to be herself and find her place and acceptance, in French director Lola Quivoron’s well-drawn, surprisingly touching, character-driven drama about a tough teen in tough world.
Directors: Lola Quivoron
Release Date: March 17, 2023
Running Time: 105 minutes
Language: French with English subtitles
Screenwriters: Antonia Buresi, Lola Quivoron
Distribution Company: Music Box Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore
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Edited by Jennifer Merin