Part of why the Cannes Film Festival is so prestigious is that the Directors Fortnight selection of films can feature some truly remarkable cinema forged by exceptional talent who may not otherwise be discovered. Under that banner this year comes the rather remarkable The Rider from director Chloe Zhao, which takes a rather diverse and unique approach in utilising a real-life family to take centre stage and bring forward a tale of loss, love and emotion.
The Rider follows Brady (Brady Jandreau) who has suffered a severe head trauma following his time as a cowboy in America’s heartland. Having been severely injured to the point of near death after being flung from a horse during a show, Brady is looking to recover and get back on with the job he knows and loves. Living with his father (Tim Jandreau) and sister Lilly (Lilly Landreau), Brady may find the recovery period much more difficult as he tackles with the realisation that he may never ride properly again, despite many of his loved ones around him turning him to return in the near future.
From the very get-go of The Rider we as an audience are given clear indicators of the directorial prowess of Chloe Zhao. Capturing close shots of horses and producing some truly remarkable frames of the American heartland, the film is immediately a beautiful sight to behold. That beauty remains present throughout the film as the young female director moves on from the beauty of these Western plains to the touching and emotional story of a young man who simply wants to return to living his dream.
At the very centre of that heart emanating on screen is Brady Jandreau, embodying his character to its full potential and really hammering home that affecting and heart-wrenching tone that the film is putting across. Riddled by his severe injury and struggling to come to terms with his plight, Jandreau brings that essential human element to the centre of this powerful drama and maintains this throughout. From the smile-inducing moments he shares with sister Lilly to those more tender sequences involving Brady with his best friend and ‘brother’ Lane (Lane Scott), whose own dream has been shattered and left him severely disabled, there are plentiful scenes in which the inexperienced talent is front and centre delivering everything with subtle wonder.
A huge risk taken by Zhao, the very fact that the main cast comprise of family members and non-actors is an audacious feat in itself but one that ultimately pays off, with the family chemistry clear to be seen and proving something that is undeniably an important factor in the film’s success. The director clearly has a handle on how to portray such a strong and powerful story with the tools at her disposal and in combining some truly wondrous visuals with that heart she has a film well worthy of a standing ovation that it received upon its conclusion. Put simply, The Rider is a must watch.