Review by Sean Boelman
Lola Quivoron’s Rodeo debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival to strong reviews, and is just now coming out in the United States. With a strong concept and solid execution, even if it isn’t as substantial or developed as one would hope, Rodeo is still fascinating in its hyper-specific portrait of a unique community.
The movie follows a young woman who discovers an underground subculture of dirt bike riders in suburban Paris, as she hopes to make her ways through the ranks of this male-dominated sect. In terms of story, it’s a pretty standard coming-of-age tale, but it is the way in which Quivoron approaches it that makes it special.
There is a good deal of tension throughout the hour-and-forty-five minute runtime. While the film is primarily a character drama, there are undercurrents of the crime thriller genre that allow it to heighten the suspense quite well. The entire story is clearly building up to an explosive final act, and the film delivers in that regard.
One of the best things about Rodeo is how deeply it immerses the viewer in this world of Parisian motocross. This is a subculture that many won’t have a familiarity with, but Lola Quivoron seems to be so intimately acquainted with its inner workings that the movie feels entirely lived in.
It helps that Quivoron chooses to use a verité-like style to shoot the film. Rather than filming the motocross sequences in a big and flashy way, Quivoron goes for gritty realism. It works quite well, as it grounds the movie — a pivotal factor in humanizing the characters rather than otherizing them.
Quivoron’s commitment to reality is further accentuated by her choice to use a cast of non-actors. The film’s lead, Julie Ledru, is particularly impressive, giving a performance that is quietly and crushingly emotional. No one else in the cast especially stands out, but they all do a good job of being believable in their roles.
That being said, although the characters in the movie all very much feel like real people, the conflict they experience is not as grounded. The script leans heavily into melodrama, and deals with some common tropes, such as the protagonist’s inner conflict between wanting to belong to the group and having a conscience telling her to do the right thing.
The success of Rodeo hinges on the viewer’s interest in this unique Parisian motocross subculture. Filmmaker Lola Quivoron’s portrait of this community feels so intimate and is shot so grittily that it’s easy to get immersed in her vision.
Rodeo is now playing in theaters.