I tried to keep my expectations low for this quiet and cinematic meditation on masculinity and rodeo riders. I only booked it because of recommendations from fellow MIFF tweeters and it’s often a mistake to expect too much (First Reformed (2017) is a good example of this). It took a little while to settle into the pace and the slight awkwardness of non-professional actors but once I did, I was hopelessly lost in its beauty and pathos.
Director Chloé Zhao met rodeo rider Brady Jandreau while making her previous film Songs My Brother Taught Me (2015). When Brady suffered a career-ending head injury, she decided to base her new film on him. Playing a slightly fictionalised version of himself as Brady Blackburn, Jandreau portrays a man who has a promising career as a rodeo rider until a fall leaves him with a plate in his head and random seizures that affect his grip.
At first thinking he just needs time to ‘rest up and heal’, the long term ramifications of his injury begin to dawn on him. The people around him are playing themselves; sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) has an intellectual disability that makes her blunt about Brady’s good and bad points, father Wayne (Tim Jandreau) can’t help but chastise him for allowing himself to be injured and for not allowing himself to heal.
Most poignantly, Brady visits friend and bull rider Lane Scott who has a significant acquired brain injury and is in long term care. Together they watch clips of Lane at his most vibrant and promising, revelling in the shared memory which contrasts so starkly with the current reality. Along the way, Brady tries to find a way he can still ride or work with horses.
It’s delicately done, with lots of introspective silences and subtlety in Jandreau’s sad and stoic visage. There are scenes of sublime cinematography where he rides across the grasslands, watches an approaching storm or spends quiet moments with his horses. For a non- actor, he does an astounding job at communicating with few words the internal struggle he is experiencing. There is just the right balance of awkward documentary realness and polished narrative flow. Like with Capharnaüm (2018), I’m impressed at the verisimilitude and the watchability of non- professionals.
The ending is gorgeous. Other than an unnecessary bit of exposition where Brady voices a truism that we’ve already understood from a heartbreaking scene with his horse Apollo, the theme of masculinity is explored with subtlety and delicacy. It reminded me of the central theme of Breath (2017), where a young man’s understanding of what it means to be a man is fundamentally challenged. Beautiful.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.