The investors are still out on the sustainability of feature film distribution, but week-by-week, a new wave of filmmakers takes the world firmly in their hands. Writer-director Chloé Zhao’s elegant documentary-flavored vision “The Rider” is an exemplar in how movies can look and feel in this still-early part of the second century of cinema. The recent feature films that come to mind as equally inspiring are also made by women: Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama,” Claire Denis’ “Un beau soleil intérieur” and Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here.” Each of these movies has a pulse, they pause, they hurtle, they breathe. Zhao’s first feature, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” was shot in the same broad plains, but she now turns to fiction. (I missed reviewing “The Rider” on its first run, and a larger audience seems to have missed out on its beauty as well.) Brady, played by Brady Jandreau, is a rising star of the rodeo circuit who wakes from a three-day coma after a horse crushes his skull: his competition days are ended.
He returns home to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Jandreau, like most of the cast, is Oglala Lakota Sioux and a cowboy by trade, and the accident depicted is a fictionalized version of his own as well. What is this murmurous man worth now? How does he define himself, on his own feet and not on the back of a horse? After drifting from his rodeo surroundings, he’s soon tempted to ride again, despite the immediate and possibly fatal dangers. Masculinity is complex; Jandreau’s embodiment of foolhardiness is captured with slightly ennobling reverence. The Western is alive, if you trust “The Rider”: onscreen grace, too. Joshua James Richards’ unabashedly pictorial cinematography is a waking dream. With Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford, Tanner Langdeau, James Calhoon, Jordon Slick Phelps, Donnie Whirlwind Horse. 104m. (Ray Pride)
A return engagement of “The Rider” opens Friday, June 22 at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.