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Rodeo ★★★★



Director: Lola Quivoron

Cast: Julie Ledru, Yanis Lafki, Antonia Bursei, Junior Correia, Ahmed Hamdi, Dave Nsaman

Release: BFI London Film Festival 2022

Infiltrating the masculine world of motocross racing seems like a bold choice from which to shine a feminist spotlight as a feature debut. Lola Quivoron is that director daringly dissecting this world through the eyes of one woman with a penchant for pistons and motor oil. Rodeo, Quivoron’s debut, provides an insight into this high-octane world of biker rodeos through her mysterious protagonist Julia, played with extraordinary force and verve by newcomer Julie Ledru (she is a biker in real life.)

Rodeo offers a unique outlook as the typical opinion may be unfavourable towards those adrenalin-seeking bike riders performing death-defying stunts. Their actions may be condemned as they perform in scrap yards and other places under cover of authorities. Quivoron, in Rodeo, eschews the stereotypes preferring to provoke that audience analysis of negative connotations without creating an obviously sympathetic canvas. Julia may not be an instantly likeable character as she flirts with the other side of the law taking advantage of her charm and possessing the ability to drive a motorcycle at speed as an inverse Robin Hood depriving the rich. Her antics are not entirely altruistic as she enjoys the thrill of the chase and admires the vehicles she rides on.

Quivoron’s vision uses close-ups and lingering shots to portray Julia’s appreciation of the bikes. There are slow, seductive touches of the sleek body of her bikes in moments reminiscent of Titane. Despite her motorcycle prowess, Julia is still in a vulnerable position amongst this group as she is rather petite and upsetting the status quo. Quivoron empowers her actors to portray this no holds barred testosterone-fuelled environment, which has fascinatingly created its rituals and norms to the full extent of eliciting raw performances. Quivoron invites us, within her gaze, to be brave to glance into the compassion and loyalty encountered within such a biker community. It is a dangerous world where the stakes are high and become riskier for Julia, as an initiation rite, which we are guided through with an ominous tense build-up.

Quivoron’s camera angles enable the audience to view that chink in the bravado and pack mentality when riders within the community are hurt whilst performing stunts. Such moments provide rare opportunities where rivalries are cast aside, and some hostilities towards the outsider Julia are relaxed. In such a male world, Julia’s presence is perceived as an overall threat, which Quivoron displays subtly. Quivoron’s commitment to refusing to conform to stereotypes is to be applauded. Julia’s personality is not diluted under Quivoron’s direction; she remains centre stage and does not fall victim to the typical coming-of-age tropes of boringly receiving a makeover to be consigned to the role of a love interest on the sidelines.

Quivoron’s direction of Julia momentarily delves into her persona as the so-called ‘Unknown’, revealing a chaotic background littered with altercations and volatility from the outset. Julia has a fearless demeanour, necessary for her survival within the community, and striking imagery of fire and machinery, combined with loud purring engines, accentuate the gritty elements of the environment. Rodeo’s aspect ratio and immersion within the day-to-day activities of the riders resemble a documentary style, which is non-judgemental and merely observing. As such, Rodeo is a fascinating outlook from start to finish.

Rodeo is not simply an action-packed film full of stunts but also embraces the individualism of the community. The close-ups of Julia tie into this aspect and create an emotional resonance with her without explicit dialogue. However, the experimental dreamlike quality of some scenes may be connected to Julia’s Caribbean background but feel jarring and remove the viewer from the overall effect that Quivoron is aiming for in exposing viewers to this little-known world.

Quivoron does not romanticise the lifestyle within Rodeo, nor does she make any concessions for Julia or sanitise her philosophy. In recent times, more women, such as Jodie Kidd, a racing driver, have been entering motorsport. Quivoron’s interest in this world of motocross racing does, unfortunately, highlight the difficulties that women are attempting to infiltrate such spaces may face.

Rodeo is that thrilling immersion into an unknown motocross racing world where danger and motorbikes are addictive commodities. The film showcases Ledru’s natural acting talent in its quest to provide a voice to this sub-culture. It’s an exciting film with a heart and is an impressive debut from Quivoron, aiming to convey freedom and break down conventions.

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