sat 10/06/2023

Rodéo review - heroine from the banlieues powers a rebel-teens saga | reviews, news & interviews

Rodéo review - heroine from the banlieues powers a rebel-teens saga

Rodéo review - heroine from the banlieues powers a rebel-teens saga

Impressive vérité portrait of a French dirt-biking gang

Wheels on fire: Julie Ledru in 'Rodéo'CG Cinema

Reading an interview with the French director of Rodéo, Lola Quivoron, you come to realise her compelling film about dirt-bike-rider culture relied on a sage piece of casting. Despairing of ever finding a lead for her film project, Quivoron chanced upon Julie Ledru on Instagram and the first-time actor became a key creator of the narrative. 

The lone girl rider in a gang of illegal road-bikers, Ledru’s Julia (main picture) is a uniquely impressive character: mixed race, fearless, and far more emotionally intelligent than the young men she hangs out with. Ledru, like Julia, is from the banlieues north of Paris. Her astounding performance is as assured as a pro’s of long experience, but wholly natural.

Quivoron spent four years getting to know the kids chewing up the roads while dodging cops and injury. These are daredevils who can make their bikes rear up like horses so they are almost perpendicular, and balance on the saddle one-legged at high speed. The sequences shot at close range during these rides are exhilarating and satisfyingly noisy (pictured below right).

The film has a fairly standard set-up. A young woman runs away from the soulless building where she lives with her mother and brother, and immediately establishes she is a maverick spirit by “punking” a bike she has found on eBay, pretending to be an interested buyer and then riding off on it, with a middle-finger salute to its owner. 

Rodeo rider

This is Julia’s whole way of life. She tells a woman who has sold her soul for financial security that she herself has no need of money as she just steals everything she needs. She is often sullen and foul-mouthed, her expression closed off and bruised. But once on her bike, with her long curly hair streaming behind her, an ecstatic grin on her face and a roar in her throat, Julia is like an avenging angel, out to punish the world for the raw deal life has given her. “I was born with a bike between my legs,” she tells a man whose bike she is about to steal. She has a pseudo-sexual relationship with the bikes, caressing them like lovers.

When Julia tries to join a gang of daredevil riders whose stunts she admires, she is rebuffed, told to get out of the way, because her bike is too slow. Most of the young men are committed misogynists who ignore her advice when a much-loved biker is hurt and she insists he needs hospital care. (He does.) One, Kaïs (Yannis Lafki), lets her sleep in the garage where he and some of the other riders retool old and stolen bikes and sell them on. He becomes a tentative friend and mentor to Julia as she becomes a useful punker. Soon the boss, Domino, who controls the bikers by mobile phone from his prison cell, notices her skills. 

Julia hankers after bigger and better horsepower machines. It’s not long before she's planning a heist from a moving truck full of top-of-the-range bikes and becomes an integral part of the gang. But this is a man’s world, and her enemy in the group, Kamel, has still not accepted her right to ride with them.

Quivoron neatly accelerates into the heist plot for the last section of the film, while also giving Julia an emotional focus, in the form of Domino’s wife, Ophélie (Antonia Buresi), whose unruly little son Julia understands and is able to calm.

Julie's affection for Ophélie helps the other woman find a kind of release, too. One of the men has previously branded Julia a witch, but she is more a white witch, a self-sufficient woman with healing skills. 

As is usually the fate of women accused of witchcraft, though, Julia is vulnerable, unable to defend herself against male violence, for all her tough-guy posturing and spliff-smoking. She can’t live this way, but she can’t live any other way, and she embraces her choice whole-heartedly.

Quivoron doesn’t editorialise or emotionally weight the narrative. This is verité filming with an almost documentary feel for long stretches, played out with a moody backing track of rap and urban guitar that sounds remote and alien, as if recorded in a big empty warehouse.

Some of its cast are real dirt-bikers, happy to show off their skills for the cameras. You sense it’s their only way of challenging the status quo and making a mark. The world of La Haine is almost 30 years old now, and it seems not much has changed in it for the better.

Julia has a pseudo-sexual relationship with the bikes, caressing them like lovers


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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