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March 14, 2023



Lola Quivoron - 2022
Music Box Films

The famous poem by John Donne states that "no man is an island". Julia, the perpetually combative young woman, would contest that view. Fierce and fiercely independent, Julia is from the Caribbean island country of Guadalupe, living a mostly rootless existence in a suburb north of Paris. At the beginning of the film, Julia discovers that her motorbike has been stolen. Getting a replacement is more important than showing up for work. Finding a bike for sale online, she hoodwinks the seller into allowing her to take a test run.

The rodeo referred to in the title is where young men gather to show off their biking skills. Especially popular is the ability to ride only on the rear wheel at a 45 degree angle or higher. It is strictly a boys club, with Julia insistently busting into the fraternity. This is where Rodeo is at its best, with the feel of a documentary looking at an unknown sub-culture. Most of the cast is non-professionals, bikers who Ms. Quivoron got to know, including lead actress Julie Ledru. The bi-racial, gap toothed Ledru is a step or two away from the conventional lead, but so is the story.

At first glance one might expect a variation on the kind of film often involving fast and furious cars. The girl is as daring a driver as the best of the guys. Rivalry turns into respect which turns into love. That's not this film. Julia is only interested in being one of the guys. There is a slight hint that she may not be totally asexual in her friendship with the wife of the imprisoned gang boss. Julia's narrow existence is defined by participating in the rodeos and stealing bikes on behalf of the gang that has uneasily taken her in.

There is also a glance at class differences. Aside from being a racially mixed group, it is suggested that the bikers are from economicly marginalized backgrounds. Locked out of her mother's public housing apartment, Julia talks her way into making the gang's garage her home. In contrast, the victims of Julia's scams in her bike thefts are mature white men who reside in houses denoting comfortable upper middle class life. There is the puncturing of masculine pride in the way that the men who fall for the dolled up Julia's con take her at her word that the purse she hands over as a form of security deposit is never examined for its true contents.

Ms. Quivoron began documenting the bikers in 2015, first with photography and later, a short film, The screenplay was written with Antonia Buresi who also appears as the wife of the gang leader. The screenplay was modified to incorporate parts of Julie Ledru's life. Ms. Quivoron has stated - "For these people, who come from very poor environments and backgrounds, the bike is a way to take revenge on the card fate dealt them. It's a way to create an alternative family and to express the rage and anger they feel inside. I like the idea of them needing to make noise in order to be heard by the people, the society, around them."

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 14, 2023 06:58 AM