Lads & Jockeys


Images of pubescent boys on horseback—crouched still, hovering over unstoppable animal motion—form a striking visual metaphor in Lads & Jockeys, a discursive study of life at a French equestrian boarding school. Director Benjamin Marquet mingles black-and-white footage of students past with that of his current focus—three 14-year-olds in their first year of a jockey apprenticeship—to build a sense of specificity and continuum into a timeless passage. Although every day begins with stable mucking, and it’s not time for dinner until someone has had a filly-related nervous breakdown, the school is all-subject and co-ed; watching our heroes get stuck, cast off, or carried away during their daily rides sets the more familiar trials of school life into a kind of poetic relief. Talent and dedication begin to separate the boys, though the two don’t necessarily match up: A chinless blond has the heart but can barely master his own shirttails, much less a thousand-pound mare; the one with natural skill curses his way through character-building chores and loses his nerve in the clutch. The graphic horse-breeding sequence is a spellbinder, but the film’s hidden revelation is in locating a laddish Xanadu, where the smaller the boy, the more the girls swoon.