Thursday, December 1, 2011

Benjamin Marquet's LADS & JOCKEYS opens for a theatrical run in New York City

Lads into jockeys might be a better title for LADS & JOCKEYS, the 2008 documentary just now opening here in the USA that tracks a bunch of boys and girls (though we see little of the girls) around 14 years of age, as they are educated -- via a special boarding school in Chantilly, a small village outside of Paris -- in the joys and pains of possibly becoming a jockey. As one trainer not so pleasantly puts it, "They call these kids 'apprentice jockeys' but 'apprentice stable lad' is more like it."  And it's true: They clean the stables, groom the horses, and do a load of other chores -- but few of them, it seems, will make the grade as full-blown jockeys.

Directed by Benjamin Marquet, shown at left, the film focuses on three boys: Steve, Florian and Flavien (shown below) -- though only the last of these is called by name often enough during the film so that viewers will know him. Flavien (shown at left, below) also seems to get the most screen time, for reasons that become apparent as the movie rolls along. He's certainly got the best face of the three -- and maybe the best form, as well.

The film's sweetest scene, however, is given to that freckle- shouldered, red-headed kid, shown at right, above, as he's on a cell phone with, first, his dad, and then his mom.  The three boys make a trip to the big city in one scene, and to the racetrack, where they even place bets. (Can 14-year-olds do this legally in France? Evidently so.)

In addition to some interesting archival footage interspersed throughout (the film's beginning features Eddie Constantine talking about how much he loves doing deals, making money and horse racing), much of the film is given over to the boys being trained, with emphasis on the horses' well being, rather than the jockeys'. "Think about the horse -- not yourself!" one boy is told. We go to a stud farm, as well, and learn about the importance of good breeding -- only to have the rug pulled from under this importance by the final few words on the subject.

While the training sessions can be exhausting, the horses are indeed gorgeous, and anyone who's a horse lover will probably want to see the movie, as will those interested in where jockeys come from, or those who simply love all things French.

"You're on horseback: Man's greatest conquest!" notes the head trainer early on. Someone might want to respond, "Well, there was that time we sent men to the moon...." But why quibble. Horses are gorgeous creatures, and France is always a lovely place to visit.

Lads & Jockeys, from Music Box Films, in French with English subtitles, and a shade too long at a running time of 100 minutes, opens Friday, December 2, in New York City at the Cinema Village, and on December 16 at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. Further playdates might be in the offing, though this one may be a tad too esoteric to warrant a much larger limited release.

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