Chloé Zhao with The Rider star Brady Jandreau at the London Hotel in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
The Rider, winner of the Grand Prix Award at the Deauville Festival of American Cinema and the Art Cinema Award in the Directors’ Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival, is Chloé Zhao's exquisite follow-up to Songs My Brothers Taught Me. The rider of the title is Brady (Brady Jandreau), a young rodeo champion, who, after an accident resulting in severe head injury, has to come to terms with the fact that his life will never be the same again.
Entirely cast with nonprofessional actors, many of them playing variations of themselves, The Rider, shot by Joshua James Richards (Francis Lee's God's Own Country and Songs My Brothers Taught Me) looks out at life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Brady, an actual horse trainer, is a revelation when he shows us what it entails to tame a horse. The craft, the knowledge, the deep communication with the animal, shown without words - this is breathtaking, transcendent cinema.
Chloé Zhao shows off her socks recalling Grizzly Man: "These are my Werner Herzog socks!"
Anne-Katrin Titze: Great socks!
Chloé Zhao: These are my Werner Herzog socks!
AKT: They're dangerous looking socks. Wow.
CZ: Grizzly Bear socks.
AKT: Grizzly Man is quite a movie. Brady, have you seen Grizzly Man?
Brady Jandreau: Uh-uh.
CZ: You remember that older gentleman that I keep telling you at Telluride is my mentor?
BJ: Yeah, of course I know Werner. Do you know Werner used to ride bulls?
CZ: Yeah, I know, in Mexico.
BJ: In Mexico. And he used to catch trout with his hands?
CZ: Yeah, exactly.
BJ: He talked to me and he told me he trained one horse. One horse that's never been rode.
CZ: Grizzly Man is about a man who lived with Grizzly Bears and in the end was killed by a bear.
BJ: Werner, he's awesome.
AKT: He told you he trained a horse?
BJ: He did say he trained one horse, he said.
Brady Jandreau: "Once we went to another situation I would have to reconnect with the animal again."
CZ: He rode bulls in Mexico. This man and what he did!
BJ: He said when he grew up he used to provide for his family, he used to have to catch trout with his hands in a stream. Before fishing hooks.
CZ: That's a Bavarian youth.
AKT: That's what you do in Bavaria. What I loved about your film is how much I think I learned about the craft and the art of dealing with wild horses. It's something you don't get very often, neither in fiction films nor documentaries - how it's done. I don't say that, as Werner Herzog, that I could do it myself now, but I did get a sense of the process. Is that what you wanted us to see?
CZ: We knew if nothing, if he [Brady] can't act at all, at least there'll be amazing horse training scenes. That's what drew us to him at the beginning.
AKT: How do you feel about those scenes? Does it represent what you do?
BJ: Yeah. Some of the scenes I had to do a little bit different. I wouldn't have to train the horse any different. Say the lighting had changed and I was at a certain position in the corral and I had to change positions on the horse, I would have to reconnect. Once we went to another situation I would have to reconnect with the animal again.
CZ: And desensitising.
BJ: Yeah, like with the Deadcat, you know, the sound guy has, the mike. They were scared to death of it! That furry thing, you know?
New York Film Festival on Broadway
AKT: Of course. The horses did not like it?
BJ: They were, yeah … I actually had to teach each and every one of the cast [crew] members about training horses as well. Like Josh, our cinematographer. He would have to desensitise the horses to his camera. And then the sound guy would have to come and desensitise the horses to his boom. And, say, Jack [McDonald] was holding up some type of reflecting device, he would have to desensitize the horse, too.
CZ: The gaffer.
BJ: Yeah, the gaffer.
AKT: It does make perfect sense. The audience wouldn't think about this. I loved the simple gestures, the way you hold your hand towards the horse. When I meet a strange cat on the street, I do that same gesture.
BJ: Yeah, you present yourself in a loving, nurturing way so they accept you and connect with you.
The full conversation with Chloé Zhao and Brady Jandreau will run upon the release of The Rider by Sony Pictures Classics in April 2018.