Rodeo: Lola Quivron’s Cannes Fest Winning Dirt-Bike Movie (French Subculture, Cannes Fest 2022)

Lola Quivron on Integrating Herself in France’s Underground Dirt-Bike Scene for Cannes Winning Debut ‘Rodeo’

The photojournalist-turned-filmmaker spent 4 years in the close-knit community of illegal riders to make her first feature, which won Cannes’ 2022 Un Certain Regard Jury Prize.

Need for Speed
Tom Cruise blasting across the screen in the opening set piece for Top Gun: Maverick is the most enduring image of “the need for speed” to come out of this year’s Cannes Film Fest.

But for fans of low-budget vérité cnema, Lola Quivron’s Rodeo provides an equally compelling portrait of an adrenaline junkie.

The movie won the jury prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section this year.

Les Films du Losange is selling worldwide,

Newcomer Julie Ledru plays Julia, a poor kid from the projects outside Paris whose drug of choice is not fighter jets but high-speed dirt bikes.

Men’s World

“I was born with a bike between my legs,” she says just before brazenly stealing the machine that will help her gain entry into the very male and very dangerous world of underground motocross riders.

Nicolas Winding Refn

It’s a world that first-time director Quivoron knows well.

Poor Immigrant Communities

Quivoron spent 4 years, as a photojournalist and non-fiction filmmaker, documenting the “urban rodeo” riders who imported and adapted America’s rebel Motorcross culture to the mostly-poor immigrant communities in the French suburbs.

For her feature debut, Quivoron combines a gritty, realistic style–some breathtaking in-camera stunt sequence–with more genre elements, turning Rodeo into a mash-up of coming-of-age tale and high-speed heist movie.

The director also points to the film’s political message: “For people who come from very poor environments and backgrounds, the bike is way to take revenge on the card that fate dealt them. They need to make noise to be heard by the society around them.”

The following interview was edited for length and comprehension.

You made a documentary on illegal dirt bike riders in France?

It’s something that I discovered in 2015, when I got in touch with the biggest community in France. I dove into this community and got very familiar with them and really formed social bonds of friendship.

I was still in film school and I spent a lot of time with them, on the roads, just having barbecues and I took a lot of photographs. And then I built up this documentary collection of material and memories.

My short documentary Dreaming of Baltimore (2016) was naturalistic, and very close to reality. Rodeo is more dramatized version of reality–it goes beyond naturalism and becomes sort of epic.

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Using fantastic, almost surrealistic elements in the movie?

I’m fascinated by the physicality of it–the physical relationship that the riders have with their own bikes. And with the practice of off dirt biking itself. When you go on the road with them, it’s very contagious, very tempting.

There is risk involved, risk is always present.

Then there’s the noise. The bikes roar like lions. A group of bikes creates symphony, there’s this physical vibration of energy released.

The practice itself is poetic and spectacular

They have to learn it, and then they share it and challenge each other to learn the different tricks, to overcome their own limits. Then they video their exploits and share them on the internet or on social networks.

American Subculture

The subculture was born in the U.S. and imported into France, but it lives and feeds on these videos that people share on social networks.

Relationship with Death

I’m fascinated by the relationship that they have with death because death can happen at any time. I saw many accidents on the road.

Political Ideology

There’s also a political component. They put all the money they have into those bikes, which are very expensive. It’s proof of the passion they feel for what they do. The practice itself has become criminalized; it’s forbidden by law everywhere. It is very marginal and very misunderstood.

Bikes as Form of Revenge

For these people, who come from 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.

The idea of them needing to make noise in order to be heard by the people and the society around them.

Few and Rare Females

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Julie Ledru in ‘Rodeo’ COURTESY CG CINÉMA

Main actress, Julie Ledru? 

Spending time with them since 2015, I knew they are very few female riders. They are very rare, it was difficult to meet any. These are very closely-knit communities and it is a male-dominated environment.

Dream/Fantasy Character Come True

The protagonist of my film was a dream character, someone I’d long dreamt and fantasized about. I started writing her based on a fantasy, but I’d never met her.

Then I discovered Julie on Instagram. Her ID was: “Unknown woman of 95”. The zip code where she lives is 95, north of Paris. I messaged her. We met and there was real chemistry between us, it was really a miracle.

She instantly understood what I was looking for. And she just embodied the figure I had been dreaming of. Her physicality, her energy. She immediately understood the character in very intimate way.

I thought she must be lying to me because the level of mutual understanding was just so close and so powerful.

I readapted the whole character to base it directly on her, adding stories she told me about her life and herself. And the trust between us, which was they from the first meeting, just grew. Julie had a deep understanding of what I was trying to do with the film, we were completely in tune.

For example, I am non-binary. I identify with how women are usually represented, and I don’t feel particularly connected to the coded image of men. Julie’s the same.

When I gave her the script, and we started rehearsing, Julie became the character Julia. It was a matter of changing a single vowel at the end of the name. Julia and Julie met halfway to a certain extent. They share the same energy, the same rage, but Julie is less able than Julia to express that rage.

Stunts in the film?

We had a fantastic stunt crew, but we were never fully exempt from danger. For the opening scene of Motorcross rally we had to organize specific event and we invited actual members of the community to join in as extras, which they did.

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They are riding and performing the tricks they know how to. There’s not wearing helmets, which is how they ride, but it is of course very dangerous.

We had them sign a release form saying they agreed to do so. The material was absolutely incredible because the riders had the freedom to perform, and we had earned their trust.

Risk, Accidents, Trust

We had some accidents. One of the riders broke her tibia in her leg. Another broke another bone. It was very difficult, very technical. Even falling down is very technical, it has to be extremely precise and choreographed. But the fact that we didn’t have any major accidents was due to the trust we had built with the community and how careful we were in working with them.