From the moment Julie (Julie Ledru) is introduced in Rodeo, it’s made clear that the only thing she cares about is motocross. However, the expensive sport doesn’t exactly fit into the twenty-something’s current lifestyle and financial plan. Living in a housing project apartment with her mother and brother, every day of Julie’s life has been a fight. Still, first-time director Lola Quivoron never presents Julie as a waif. Though her slender frame and wild mass of hair could have certainly had her walking runways in another life, in this one, she spends her days stealing motorbikes from unsuspecting eBay sellers after she cons her way into getting test drives.
As a loner, companionship — romantic or otherwise — doesn’t seem to be high on Julie’s list until a faithful encounter with the B-Moore bike gang changes everything. Riding solo, Julie happens upon one of the all-male group’s illegal rides. Enamored, she watches them as they thrust their bikes in the air, twisting and turning their bodies over the seats and handles with elegance and style. The scenes are some of the most mesmerizing of the film. Quivoron worked with acclaimed stuntman Mathieu Lardot of Mission: Impossible fame to capture the shots on-screen.
After witnessing, an accident that leaves one of the gang’s veteran bikers dead, Julie — who has renamed herself Unknown, finds a precarious place in the gang by working in their underground chop shop. It’s not a harmonious group. While Julie appears to have an ally in Kais (Yanis Lafki), she is constantly antagonized by Manel (Junior Correia). Nevertheless, her criminal-minded schemes earn the attention of Domino, the gang’s volatile leader who still runs things from prison. Julie even gains the trust of Dominio’s long-suffering and increasingly nervous wife, Ophélie (Rodeo co-writer Antonia Buresi) who barely leaves her house.
Raw and gritty, there is a lot about Rodeo that works. Ledru is an enticing first-timer whose constant scowl and determination aid in her ability to navigate the B-Moore boys and Dominic’s increasingly outlandish demands. Moreover, Julie’s connection with Ophélie and her young son showcases a desire for freedom that both women have, even though they have no real way to obtain it. The tenuous friendship between the women acts as a balm in the sometimes violent film.
Yet, instead of a straightforward drama, Quivoron chooses to infuse a surreal-like undertone throughout Rodeo. First, Julie begins seeing the dead biker in her dreams, even though they only interacted briefly. In the film’s climax, this surrealist imagery is pushed front and center again, leading to a bewildering and unsatisfying conclusion.
As enticing as she is to watch, it’s never evident what Julie’s desires are. She’s aware that she’s been used and abused by Dominio and the B-Moore. Yet, she embeds herself with them, even getting them to buy into her long-held goal of stealing a truck shipment of brand new bikes while the vehicle is in motion. Considering how Julie’s life has panned out thus far, the audience can guess how that all turns out.
Perhaps because there is so much buildup to the climax, which only leads to Rodeo’s perplexing conclusion, the audience is left wanting much more for Julie. Yet, it may never have been wise to want more for anyone than they desired for themselves.
Rodeo was screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2022, as a part of Unifrance’s Inaugural Critics Lab.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic, consultant and entertainment
editor. As a journalist, her work has been published in Netflix’s Tudum, EBONY, JET,
ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis
on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a
cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her
reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide.