French Motorcycle Crime Indie can’t Quite get its Motor Runnin’.



“Bike life” is typically a guy’s life, that much is immediately clear in director/co-writer Lola Quivoron’s gritty indie French feature, Rodeo.  Quivoron demonstrates an immersive fascination with the kind of “motor rodeo” street culture that’s been prominent in L.A. and apparently this rundown segment of France.  With real riders occupying the roles, Rodeo exudes a documentary-like presence within the scene.  There’s a fuel-soaked authenticity to their rabble-rousing and edgy camaraderie.  When these guys ride, the favorite move, by far, is the prolonged wheelie, zipping along on the back tire while pulling back dangerously far.  For any intent and purpose, this maneuver appears to be far beyond the tipping point.  Somehow, they never seem to fall.  All the riding seen in the film is real.

Meet Julia (embodied by Julie Ledru, a non-actor and apparently the real deal on wheels)… if you’re able to.  She’s a fierce one, in her gym shorts and filthy baggy T-shirt, who takes what she wants but wants very little.  But she does, however, want to be part of the rodeo scene.   To freely ride and to be accepted on equal terms might in fact be the only thing she wants.  And she wants it very badly.

When she’s not cruising the drag, she’s cruising the ads.  Her methodology for getting motorcycles is nothing if not down pat: she finds one she likes that’s for sale by its owner.  She shows up looking the part of a promising buyer.  She hops on to get the feel and then insists on a short test ride.  Her reassurance is repeated until she gets the “yes” she’s looking for, usually accompanied by a hasty agreement that she goes no further than the end of the visible road or driveway and then come right back to settle up.  For collateral, she hands over her purse with everything in it.  Then, with a defiant flip of the bird and a sudden trail of dust, she’s gone.  Presumably the purse was someone else’s all along.   We see this con executed multiple times.

When the riders learn of her bike acquisition skills, she quickly becomes ingratiated to their inner circle.  Why? They’re all petty criminals.  When they’re not out riding, they’re running their motorcycle theft ring.  They hole up in their secret shop taking orders by phone from their incarcerated leader and switching out the vital VIN numbers and whatnot.  They can then turn the bikes around on the open market.  Julia becomes quite popular within the group, bringing in choice bikes with her tried and true method.

Yet, for all the film’s real stunt riding and criminal plotting, Rodeo lacks any truly engaging hook.  While Julie Ledru has a compelling mystery about her, her ingrained aggression is far more prominent.  Consequently, the emotional barriers that she never stops projecting foil any chance for her to effectively carry the film.  Alongside of that is Quivoron’s propensity for the heavy laden, as a bleak air of social-realistic doom permeates everything.  The bikes don’t represent freedom like the characters might think they do.  They’re more like time bombs on wheels.  These ideas are more fascinating to hash out here than Rodeo is to watch.

My take may very well be a minority opinion, as Rodeo certainly has its share of film critics in its corner.  It is by no means a poor effort, as Lola Quivoron proves her dedication to depicting the “bike rodeo” world as she’s witnessed it.  There’s plenty of reasons to anticipate future endeavors from her.  That much is obvious in her twenty-five-minute short film, Dreaming of Baltimore (2016), another exploration of bike life, but with far more engaging characters.  While there’s a delicacy in Baltimore that Rodeo lacks, it’s very reassuring that it’s there at all.  

Dreaming of Baltimore is included on the new Rodeo Blu-ray from Music Box Films, along with a couple of brief festival-based cast & crew video pieces discussing the film, its making, and its acceptance into competition at the Cannes Film Festival.  It’s fun to see the young cast of young street bikers navigate the prospect of walking the red carpet.  Also included are a related music video, the film’s trailer, extended footage of biker stunts, and a clickable photo gallery.  Rodeo looks and sounds wonderful on this release, delivering all the deep revs and roars that anyone might want from a street racing motorcycle movie.

For Julia, the question of where her personal tipping point is can’t help but be tied up in her own version of “bike life.”  Or, as she thinks of it, “life.”  A clear line can be drawn from Rodeo back to Dennis Hopper’s Easy Riderand Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels, and their own youthfully bleak milieu.  Everyone is looking for adventure and whatever comes their way.  What comes their way, however, is inevitably.  Eventually, more than rubber must meet the road.