The Rider – **** OUT OF 4
Chloe Zhao (“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”) is a Beijing-born Chinese writer, director and producer who resides in the United States and studied political science at Mount Holyoke College and film production at NYU. “The Rider” (picked up by Sony Pictures Classics) is her second film and is filled with so much heart, subtle empathy and cinematic truth that it tugs at your soul with its poetry. There are moments revealed on camera that cannot be acted-communication between species and among friends who possess similar values and live with tragic consequences.
It is a semi-documentary film starring many real life family members that shared similar experiences. But, do not be misled, it a fictional narrative feature with shape and majesty. It is replete with western people, culture and the mesmerizing landscapes of South Dakota. It embodies principles of the slow film movement, comprised of intimate human interactions as well as breath-taking windswept visas. Yes, the colorful rodeo action is there, but sparingly.
Most of the drama comes from the star’s (Brady Jandreau) confrontation with “self”, within the intensity of the family of three and friends. The film’s tiny cast is often pictured huddled together amid the treeless environment, or cloistered in their ramshackle trailers, set behind barbed-wire fences-their fragility held upon the vastness of the plains.
What made this film such a standout at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the top prize at the Director’s fortnight sidebar competition, was its sensitivity revealing how the brain and body are inextricably intertwined as we watch a rising rodeo champ have to cut short a promising career due to a traumatic head injury. It is a poignant story of a slice of America that is inexorably slipping away.