Rodeo review | A gritty race through France’s urban motorbike culture

★★★☆☆ While Rodeo thrills with visuals and motorbike stunts, we can't help but wish for a stronger emotional tie to its characters.

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Lola Quivoron’s feature debut, Rodeo, takes us on an intense journey into the world of suburban motorbiking in France. It’s a subculture that thrives in low-income communities where young, primarily black and mixed-race riders, seek glory on the tarmac and relief from their daily struggles.

Julia (Julie Ledru) is a semi-homeless, surly young rebel who joins a criminal gang led by Domino (Sébastien Schroeder). She finds herself immersed in the high-stakes world of motorbike theft and illegal street racing, forging alliances and rivalries within the group. As the story unfolds, Julia must navigate the precarious balance between loyalty and self-preservation, all while seeking a sense of belonging and identity.

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The film follows tearaway Julia

Throughout the film, Quivoron skillfully interweaves the characters’ personal journeys with the high-octane action of the motorbike stunts and heists. Julia develops relationships with other gang members, including Domino’s wife, Ophélie (Antonia Buresi), and the enigmatic Kaïs (Yannis Lafki). As these relationships evolve, they impact the gang’s cohesion, with some blaming the newcomer, Julia, as the source of the unwanted friction.

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Cinematographer Raphaël Vandenbussche captures the raw energy of the motorbike stunts and races, creating an immersive and exhilarating visual experience. We’re offered a glimpse into the lives of these thrill-seekers and highlights of the defiant camaraderie that binds them together.

However, despite its engaging premise and stunning visuals, Rodeo struggles to provide a satisfying narrative depth. The screenplay by Quivoron and co-writer Antonia Buresi only scratches the surface of Julia’s inner turmoil and the relationships that shape the gang’s dynamics. We’re often left yearning for a deeper understanding of Julia’s motivations and the community’s unwavering bond.

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While the film’s sociological approach offers an intriguing glimpse into the world of urban motorbiking in France, it fails to capture the essence of its characters. The tension between the bikers is palpable, but their motivations and desires remain frustratingly obscured.

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Rodeo is a visually compelling and very loud exploration of the urban motorbike subculture in France, anchored by a strong performance from Julie Ledru. While the film succeeds in capturing the electrifying world of these defiant bikers, it ultimately needs to deliver a thoroughly gratifying story. 

Hindered by its underdeveloped characters and thinly-sketched plot, Quivoron’s Rodeo is a wild but cold ride that leaves the audience craving a deeper connection to its characters and the cultural landscape that shapes their world.

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