THE STORY – Julia, a young misfit who is passionate about riding, meets a crew of dirt riders who fly along at full speed and perform stunts. She sets about infiltrating their male-dominated world, but an accident jeopardizes her ability to fit in.
THE CAST – Julie Ledru, Yannis Lafki & Antonia Buresi
THE TEAM – Lola Quivoron (Director/Writer) & Antonia Buresi (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes
There is a multitude of varied landscapes that feel ripe for discovery. These are unique areas that co-exist with the more mundane elements of society but have a deeper and darker undercurrent that pulls those on the margins closer to its core. One does not have to understand what draws such participants into this environment completely. However, a fascinating aura persists that, even from a distance, can be inviting to dissect. The world that “Rodeo” gazes upon is one that wrangles together misfits and outsiders, bonded by an appreciation for the danger in activities that give a rush of adrenaline. It’s a noble effort that results in an intriguing, if flawed, exercise.
The first glimpse of Julia (Julie Ledru) shows a person consumed with rage and aggression toward anyone who stands in her way. Living in the low-income French neighborhoods, her means may be modest but not her ambitions. She is taken by the underground arena of “rodeos,” an illegal gathering of motorcyclists to perform daring and impressive stunts. A chance encounter with one group finds her coming into their fold. The crew is drenched with testosterone and resentment towards her presence, but Julia’s defiance keeps her embedded. Her skill of stealing high-end motorbikes from naïve patrons is put to use by this gang that later sells them. As Julia’s confidence rises, so too does the level of peril surrounding her. The battle for her self-fulfillment may possibly be only achieved through grave consequences.
Despite not having any previous acting experience, Ledru is able to sustain a commanding atmosphere that is quite captivating. There is a fierceness to her tenacity that feels authentic to this setting, and she embodies this combative personality in a manner that is fitting for one that wrestles with all the restraints others attempt to force upon her. She maintains a gravity that never betrays the credibility of her performance that always feels lived-in and genuine. She is, without a doubt, the highlight of this ensemble, which is scattered with far too many roles to have any real emotional attachment towards. There’s a nice chemistry shared between Ledru and Yannis Lafki, a compatriot who brings endearing, flirtatious energy to their scenes. Antonia Buresi plays the gang leader’s wife and presents an effective, compelling melancholy. However, the other cast members hardly have enough material to make a significant impact.
The intimacy that director and co-writer Lola Quivoron brings at first comes across as oppressive and claustrophobic, a roadblock to fully immersing into this woven tapestry. One is appreciative of the notable showcase of the death-defying acts, but there is a distance in terms of becoming fully invested. As the film progresses, the filmmaking settles in easier. However, breaking free from the monotonous tone and surface-level commentary can be difficult. The analysis that examines a male-dominated space being infiltrated by a woman determined to prove herself is familiar territory that never seems all that inventive with this particular execution. When the narrative races toward an unearned and unsatisfying arch, one cannot help but be underwhelmed by the storytelling. Still, Quivoron’s efforts are suitable enough to craft an appropriate ambiance, even if one wishes for a more nuanced portrait.
Much of “Rodeo” exists in a satisfactory, if not wholly extraordinary, realm. The directorial choices inform the audience of a brutal plane that can leave room for the potential of a more earnest reconciliation. The filmmaking indulges in these themes, but Ledru’s portrayal mostly propels this work’s most engaging aspects. A sprawling sea of characters struggles to establish a great impression, and the shallow inspection leaves much to be desired. At the same time, the protagonist does possess a profound strength that can be alluring, and to exist in such a darkly constructed world is something to treasure still.