Lola Quivoron wowed critics and audiences at Cannes with her bold first film “Rodeo” which picked up the Coup de Coeur prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section.
Following the world premiere of “Rodeo,” Quiveron started being courted by a flurry of U.S. agents while Les Films du Losange, which is selling her movie, is fielding several offers from top North American buyers.
Produced by Charles Gillibert (“Annette”) at CG Cinema, “Rodeo” follows a hot tempered and fiercely independent young woman who infiltrates an underground dirt bike community in France. Julie Ledru makes her acting debut in the film as Julia, a small-time thug who has a passion for motorcycles and the high-octane world of urban ‘Rodeos’ – illicit gatherings where riders show off their bikes and their latest daring stunts.
Quiveron, a bright filmmaker with a strong personality and vision, sat with Variety to discuss her fascination for urban rodeos, work with non-professional actors, her point of view on gender, political engagement and her ambition as a rising filmmaker.
What’s the genesis of “Rodeo”?
It came from an exploration that I begun in 2015 with several documentary projects that I did. It was a playground that I was very familiar with because I grew up in the suburbs of Paris and I saw young people doing motocross in front of my building. Working from that basis, I spent five years writing what became “Rodeo.” I wanted to create a true fiction tale, and weave in elements of genre, gangsterism, and a bit of western. The idea was to make a film that had an aesthetic and a cinematic dimension.
“Rodeo” is very immersive and sometimes surreal. How did you shoot it?
Yes, the idea was go beyond the naturalism of what I did in my graduation short “Au Loin Baltimore.” So we shot in a cinemascope format, which is used in classic westerns, and we used anamorphic lenses, as well as bright colors. The camera was very light and always moving. I also wanted to stay close to the characters, and frame their faces as much as possible with very long shots.
How did you work with this great cast of newcomers?
We had a mix of non-professionals, with the exception of Antonia Buresi (who also collaborated on the script), and it was so interesting to work with them because they had their own understanding of their characters, which was different from who they were in the real life, and they also had their own interpretation of what I had written for them. I gave them a lot of freedom to embody their characters, and align their energies, bodies, gazes. We did a lot of improvisation ahead of the shoot. I got them to improvise a lot of scenes that were not in the film. It was a way for them to get to know their characters and understand their inner conflicts and world views.
How did you create such a ensemble chemistry between these non-professional actors ?
The casting director had the brilliant idea of meeting the actors in groups from the start and she would look at how they interacted and would gauge their personalities. It was a very documentary-like approach. All of it was filmed and I would watch the video afterwards. From 20 groups we got down to four groups, then two groups. I stepped in when they were four or five groups and I filmed them. The journey from casting to the start of shoot was like an acting school. They learned so much. Once the shoot started, they were already totally familiar with their role and they could really make it their own and make them evolve. We also had an incident at the start of filming, so we had to pause for two weeks and during that time, the actors got to spend a lot of time together. The riders became like a family, like brothers.
But they also had a script, right?
I think a script is a document that’s a bit stern and retrograde, as if it was set in stone. A script should be like a music score that one has to put in the trash when cameras start rolling. During filming, it has to be be “free jazz.” A script can crystallize a lot of fantasies, dreams, and it’s important to focus on the real, present and capture the alchemy between the actors and their emotions. I tend to perceive a shoot like a micro-society where one can make things progress. For instance I don’t like the idea of directing actors because it implies a hierarchy, whereas I believe a filmmaker should have a collective, horizontal approach with actors.
How did you meet Julie Ledru?
Julie is like a space alien, a miracle. I long dreamed of this character of a female thug who had such a fierceness, passion, rage and softness at the same. But women like Julie are very rare in the world of cross-bitume. I came across Julie on Instagram. Her account was named Inconnue du 95, and I realized she was in a region near where I grew up. A place that I knew well. When we met and she started shared a lot of things, I was stunned because everything she was telling me was in the movie I had written. Her solitude, anger, violence, her experiences were all depicted in the film. During the preparation, we worked on her physical presence at a house in Normandie where Antonia taught her to move, walk like her character Julia and they rehearsed the fight scenes. I believe in what the Dardenne brothers say, that an actor stirs emotions from movements.
One of the main themes of “Rodeo” is also gender.
As a woman having a female body, living with another woman, I feel the responsibility, a political engagement to fight all forms of discrimination, injustice and stereotypes that perpetuates clichés. That’s why I dreamed of this character of Julia. Because it’s rare to see a character who has a female body and the eagerness to be in the same world, to have the same strength as men. It was important for me to see her navigate this community dominated by men and see that she isn’t afraid to take the same characteristics to have as much power as men. In fact, she has the same soul as them, even if her anatomy is different. Her presence in their world is disruptive, she’s a rebel who will show a different representation of what a woman is. I can relate to that between I feel that I fall between the two genders. I don’t identify with the representation of either gender. One could even say that I was born non-binary. And like Julia in “Rodeo,” I’ve struggled to feel that I belonged.
Speaking of discrimination, do you feel that there is a glass ceiling in terms of opportunities for female directors? It took you five years to make this film…
Yes, there is a glass ceiling but I believe it’s been changing in the last three years. The #MeToo movement helped a lot to legitimate female voices. We now listen to them, take them into consideration. We can say things that we couldn’t say before and fight against the very violent expression of patriarchy. We feel like the foundations of patriarchy are shaking a bit.
Are you also inspired by also female directors like Julia Ducournau who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year with “Titane”?
Oh yes, Rebecca Zlotowski, Mati Diop, Andrea Arnold, Chantal Akerman, Julia Ducournau… they’ve opened the path and I have a lot of respect for their ambition. They succeeded in presenting their films in festivals that are very prestigious and also very male-dominated. It creates a sense of filiation. It’s as if they had plowed the ground for the generations to come. But I find their work interesting regardless of the fact that they are women. You can be a female director and have a very normalized and narrow-minded representation of women.
That’s the opposite of what you’re doing in “Rodeo.”
I want to replace labels. We need a little chaos to get to the essence of things. There is a beautiful quote from Edouard Glissant [a novelist and philosopher] that says that the world has to be shaken in all directions to better understand it. Right now, we’re going through a sprawling crisis. An ecological, health, social, economic crisis, and a war…. It’s very interesting to live such a crisis because we feel two movements coming out of it. One that’s repressive, retrograde and pulling us backward, and another one that’s progressive, that’s constantly evolving and I feel that I belong to that new world that’s moving and shaking, and so is “Rodeo.”