Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reflecting on "Lads et Jockeys"

Walking out of the Wilma 2 Theater this past Sunday afternoon, I was surprised and maybe relieved to see the familiar hills and snowflakes above Missoula’s Clark Fork. The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival had transported me to another place, far away from Western Montana.

Ah, the magic of movie going you’ll say, but my teleportation experience was also testament to the direct cinema style of Lads et Jockeys, Benjamin Marquet’s film about French teenagers working toward racetrack glory. Fly on the wall documentaries are awesome for their similarity to narrative film. They transport the viewer to a world beyond their own, one all the more real for its lack of expositional interviews and voiceover interpretation. There is only the viewers’ reaction to the filmmakers chosen footage and whatever meaning we choose to find in it.

Lads et Jockeys, 2008 (US release 2011) follows some fourteen year old French boys as they enter their chosen m├ętier, and an important one in France: horsemanship. Leaving home, many for the first time, to begin their careers, these shorties are placed in the care of abrasive trainers and coaches, most of whom are disappointed jockey hopefuls themselves.

It’s a cruel world, subject to the harsh realities of physicality and luck. The boys must contend with cold five a.m. starts, u-haul size wheelbarrows of straw and manure, not to mention the challenge of perching atop well-rested racehorses. The ease with which one bucking thoroughbred topples a whole string of riders shows the futility of their pursuit.

Still, Marquet’s footage of 90 pound children riding galloping horses is likely the most beautiful since Albert Lamorisse’s 1953 short, White Mane. He includes archival glory shots of famous jockeys and jaw dropping steeple chasers to inspire any hot rod. Silks and flowers and six foot solid hedges show us what these boys are bred to appreciate.

When not at the stable or track, the school kids act like kids, engaging in their own horseplay. They kick and bite each other, flirt and behave badly. The skill with which they berate each other, relating with snarky insults and competition, make it obvious that these boys will grow up to be just as demanding and verbally critical as their trainers. They are just so specifically French.

Marquet takes us into the world of French horsemanship, and that’s where he leaves us. Not even subtitles can translate it. Only in the days since have some observations of the lads and jockeys made sense to me. Like a masterpiece without its museum label, Marquet lets us feel and think what we want, about the way French people are and why and how far we’re willing to go for a dream.

This viewer was able to think what she wants about her own father, who entered a similar school in the 1960s. He never made it as a jockey. He grew too tall.

Essay by BSDFF Promo Team writer Cecile Berberat