All Gas No Brakes: Quivoron’s Debut Fails to Hit Pay Dirt
Further exploring the dirt-bike sub-culture she first examined in her short Dreaming of Baltimore (2016), French filmmaker Lola Quivoron revs up the engine once again for what feels like a rushed, extremely busy feature drama debut that weighs heavily on fantasy fulfillment quotient. Visually, Rodéo employs a guerrilla filmmaking like shooting style with a frenetic moving camera aesthetic. You can smell the burnt rubber, relate to the immediacy, but even with a super-charged grounded performance by first-time actress Julie Ledru this potentially explosive audience pleaser is too clumsy and far-fetched to matter. One wishes that there could have been less touchpoints, more two dimensional characters, less filler sequences dependent on the chase and a much more grounded screenplay to make the film’s heroine quest and choices all the more palpable and plausible.
Co-written by Quivoron and Antonia Buresi (who also plays a stay-at-home wife in complete fear of her crime boss hubby), we’re quickly in the know about Julia’s domestic situation – and the deep-seeded need to leave at all costs. Despite living a rocky life, the raging Julia is willing to hedge her bet – when fate intervenes and survivalist tactics kick-in, we are privy to Lady Luck joining the film’s enigmatic protagonist at the hip. From refuelling her latest “acquisition” to her ascension in the ranks in a criminal organization who’ll help her attain her most outlandish of dreams (hitting a Brinks type truck and swipe out the loot – it’s a brazen plot), this is not Julia’s first rodeo.
What’s mystifying in this particular anti-hero’s journey is that her stroke of luck hinges on her selectively not being guarded – all indications are that she would never let her guard or cunning down – this makeshift family (chop shop and theft organization) that share the same passion for dirt bikes is not the replacement family she should seek – her wits and street smarts confirm that the screenplay makes arbitrary and hurried choices that don’t jive with Julia’s DNA. Our post teen female protagonist has a complex and skewed understanding of family and about trust -it’s perplexing to see when she lets her guard down.
Played with brio, much like the character she plays, the enigmatic lead’s performance is rough around the edges. It’s hard to feel that she was born with a bike between her legs. Working with a certain verve and naiveté — Quivoron favors spirituality and naturalism over a more restrictive format but if you take Rodéo at face value – you’ll feel short-changed, unless one buys into the fable-esque qualities. It’s a kernel of an idea really, and for all the action sequences — one can’t help but think a less is more approach would have been the preferably route – The Place Beyond the Pines doesn’t use the dirt bike as a crutch, here it’s tiresome regardless of how many CC’s the bike has or how many wheels we’re riding on.
With no beats, the arcs feel under-nourished. Events are strung together, relationships don’t have time for maturation – which is problematic for certain associations made between the protagonist and motto club. Comparably the chaotic lead in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank comes to mind here, but Rodéo is more akin to American indie cinema that is hooked on a feeling. It’s simply too much of a stretch to think that the poetically rendered fiery send-off was the only out.
Reviewed on May 19th at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard. 110 Mins