French director Lola Quivoron’s first feature film, “Rodeo,” is set in the world of thrill-seeking motorcyclists. Close-knit groups of often disenfranchised youths share a kinship for cogwheeling prowess, but their dangerous displays of speed and stunts on the urban streets of France are now illegal.
The first few movies, of course, can also be a form of showing off, and that’s indeed part of what’s exhilarating and magnetic about Quivoron’s volatile joyride of crime and community. (Think Julia Ducournau of “Titane” notoriety who wrote a “Fast & Furious” movie for the Dardenne brothers.) a tough young woman played by newcomer Julie Ledru, whose own life in that world influenced the story Quivoron co-wrote with Antonia Buresi.
We meet Julia (Ledru) in the midst of a loud, physical escape from the men trying to restrain her; the reasons are not clear, but it is obvious that being surrounded by people and being held are not her favorite situations. Commanding a bike is what Julia lives for: she runs hot, but rides happy, and to make that happen, she’s got a perfectly tear-jerking con: convincing male motorcycle owners to let a smiling, flirtatiously knowledgeable female shopper test drive their wheels. , so that all they get in return is a middle finger when she rips off, that fake smile morphing into the loose smile of a free spirit.
However, in the male biker subculture, her femininity is not an asset, although her desexualized appearance and behavior (wild hair, baggy, and thug) express discomfort in giving or accepting anyone’s gender identity. Inserting herself into a local gang competition, or “rodeo” as they are called in France, however, she is met with plenty of misogynistic aggression, save for the kindly mentoring attention of a respected member named Abra (Dave Nsaman). When the day turns violent and ends in bloodshed and tragedy, she is accepted, albeit reluctantly, into the group, called the B-Mores. Excited to join but always protective, Julia gives her name as “Unknown”.
The B-More crew operates out of a garage where they fix up bikes with stolen parts and resell them for a leader named Domino, who is currently serving time but is clearly in control of things. As Julia progresses towards a bond with the kind and attentive comrade Kaïs (Yanis Lafki), she becomes indispensable with her errands and her wits for stealing bikes; she also finds herself struggling with trust, bouts of heartbreak, and in her budding connection with Domino’s isolated wife, Ophélie (co-writer Buresi), and her young son, the possibility of a larger life.
These ajar doors to Julia’s sense of belonging and freedom don’t feel particularly safe, however, a mood reflected in the raw, jagged energy of Ledru’s performance, or the crisp, shocked-edited naturalism of Quivoron’s direction. . Adding powerfully to the shifts between derelict and claustrophobic intensity is Raphaël Vandenbussche’s photography, like colored gravel, and the adrenaline-pumping soundscape of a Kelman Duran score.
Needless to say, real and even ghostly threats to Julia abound, and when her plan for an ambitious and outrageous heist is approved and put into motion, we feel a moment of recognition of her ability to be whoever and whatever she is. see yourself. : daredevil, master thief, salaryman, provider, escapist, one of the guys, nobody’s girl, maybe nothing or everything. If “Rodeo” doesn’t always seem clear on who Julia is, outside of a tense exchange with a sibling at home where she’s clearly no longer welcome, the backstory is minimal, Quivoron’s acceptance of his leading lady’s fluidity clouded. the self is her own propelling asset, not unlike what she made Barbara Loden’s indie masterpiece “Wanda” such a revealing portrayal of a marginalized woman’s social disconnection. “Rodeo” takes on its blind corners and open roads with much ferocity, but also with a necessary compassion for the searching force of nature at its core.
In French with English subtitles
Execution time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles