REVIEW: THE LORD’S RIDE (BRADFORD FILM FESTIVAL)

A gypsy crime film from first-time French filmmaker, Jean-Charles Hue, The Lord’s Ride is fiction with a documentary feel as actors play different versions of themselves. Bradford film festival showcases Hue’s debut in its UK premiere, accompanied by Abner Pastoll and Jonathan Hall’s imaginative short, Me Or The Dog, featuring Edward Hogg and Martin Clunes’ vocal skills.

Exploring mental illness and fidelity, Me Or The Dog is light viewing with dark underlying subject-matter while The Lord’s Ride is less obviously entertaining. Following the Yeniche traveller community in Northern France, Hue’s film focuses on Fred Dorkel, a car stealing community member who is feared and respected by his people. After Fred has a bizarre spiritual experience, he’s keen to change his lifestyle and try to go clean but finds it difficult to abandon an ideology where respect for elders and vandalism go hand-in-hand.

Hue’s film opens in an empty car park on a bleak day with a young man dangerously speeding through a travellers’ site. Community members are far from impressed but soon revert back to the daily chores of fixing up old scooters and vehicles. Here lies The Lord’s Ride‘s greatest strength as Hue gives us realistic insight into a community he’s clearly more than familiar with. We’re shown a fist fight with one of the elder’s sons teaching his drunken cousin a lesson on behalf of his dad. Among the travellers’ codes, family honour is clearly emphasised as all the family go to watch a rather pathetic looking fight, cheering the boys on. “We’re a community”, they agree but a community of inequality as women are left with the kids while the men do the business in dodgy field exchanges. Racism is clearly rife as community members are hung-up on not being mistaken for a Gadjo (a person without Romany blood), possessing “real traveller’s blood” and repeatedly curse others (“damn Arab”).

Little actually happens in the film and there’s plenty of extreme close-ups adding to its documentary fly-on-the-wall feel. Flashbacks to earlier events are through narrative rather than deviating from a linear timeline, in keeping with the film’s slice-of-life style. The arrival of the dog is a surreal scene but underused adding little character depth while an argument over God and the necessity to say grace at a family barbecue is tense.

The Lord’s Ride is slow moving and drags at times but provides some interesting revelations about the code of conduct travellers adhere to. Exploring peer pressure, drinking culture and religious enlightenment, the film uses the dog symbolically as a pivotal point to represent fresh starts. An odd non-sensical sequence of events feels like The Lord’s Ride may have suffered from over-editing but it’s something you’re almost grateful for when the film disappointingly fizzles out. Don’t be lured in by talk of Hue’s first feature being comparable to far superior family crime dramas like Animal Kingdom, it’s not.

Rating: 2/5

Review by Leo Owen.

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