In the suburbs of Paris, the streets are overrun by gangs of motorbike enthusiasts who perform high-speed stunts in what’s become known as urban rodeos. The illegal displays of dangerous feats draw a mostly male competitor but that doesn’t matter to Julia (newcomer Julie Ledru), a street-savvy motorbike thief, who infiltrates the boys-only club earning a spot in the gang after successfully heisting a couple of dual sport bikes for the group’s incarcerated ringleader Domino (Sébastien Schroeder).
In a chaotic opening scene, Julia (Ledru) is in full-on panic mode after discovering her bike has been stolen (one that she probably stole, to begin with). Within minutes she’s meeting a guy in the French countryside who is selling a dirt bike on eBay. She looks it over and asks to try it out handing the owner a purse with her keys and identification as a deposit while she gives it a test run. Of course, the purse’s contents are fake. Once on the motorcycle, Julia is a goner. Mission accomplished, another stolen bike in her possession.
She heads over to a Paris suburb where an urban rodeo is underway. Groups of gearheads, in this case, the B-Mores gang, perform wheelies, some while standing on their bikes as man and machine become one. Last year the BBC reported that France was cracking down on these outlaw bikers, insisting that police stations would be carrying out three anti-rodeo operations per day. In the film, when word gets out that the police are on the way, the gang scrambles to leave the area. In the chaos, one of the members, Abra (Dave Nsaman), is seriously injured.
Julia is a hothead and overconfident. When she shows up at the urban rodeo, she expects the young men to give her free gas. Instead, she gets major pushback from the crew, except for one member, Kaïs (Yannis Lafki) who offers to share his fuel. There’s something about the tomboyish, tough-as-nails, Julia that he finds appealing. The two eventually bond but in director and co-writer Lola Quivoron’s story, romance is on the back burner. It’s a harsh world for Julia who has no relationship with her mother while the B-Mores boys aren’t the kind of guys that are into “relationships,” Kaïs may be the exception.
The film’s subplot involves ringleader Domino’s wife Ophélie (co-writer Antonia Buresi) who is a prisoner in her own home, only allowed to go out to visit her husband in the slammer. Domino instructs the B-Mores crew to bring her groceries and supplies needed to take care of their young son Kylian (Cody Schroeder). She doesn’t have any money, so she’s trapped with no way out. When Domino puts Julia in charge of the grocery list, she befriends Ophélie, coaxing her out of the house to go on a bike ride. Julia sees herself as Ophélie’s liberator.
After illegally acquiring several motorcycles for the gang, Julia mentions plans for stealing a large shipment of bikes headed to a dealer. She wants to pull a “Fast and Furious” heist that involves hijacking the truck carrying the motorcycles while in transit. Domino likes it and instructs the boys to carry out the plan under her command. That doesn’t sit well with a couple of gang members still hostile to Julia who sports nasty scars and bruises after being assaulted. She thinks she knows the culprit’s identity (he was wearing a helmet) and vows to kill him.
Lola Quivoron’s debut feature contains many unforgettable moments and a breakthrough performance by Julie Ledru whose Instagram account (showcasing her love for bikes) caught the filmmaker’s attention. However, the Paris-born writer-director falls just short of delivering a great film as opposed to a very good one. Up until the final act, “Rodeo” held me captive. What should have been a shocking finale, ends up being a bit disappointing as it runs out of gas. Still, Quivoron’s imagery, bold and unexpected, will haunt you for days. Highly recommended.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing at the Angelika Film Center & Café (Dallas) and Angelika Film Center & Café (Plano)