René is paraplegic and lives in a local-authority home. Just 50 years old, he rages at the limitations of institutional life: its appalling wallpaper, the staff who enforce the rules, the passivity of his co-residents. On his wall is a totemic portrait of Karl Marx. Living independently he was involved in politics; now, locked in bitterness, he’s contemptuous, openly insulting, deeply unhappy – and incandescent with sexual frustration. That is until Julie, a new worker at the home, steps into his life.
Julie does what she can for him. She has the self-confidence not to be provoked, the humanity to see beyond his anger. She agrees he has the right – if not the independent means – to a sexual life and René wants sex with a prostitute. When they try official channels – and fail – Julie finds herself searching, with measuring tape in hand, the lay-bys of the Nationale 7 for a prostitute willing to take a disabled client and with a trailer door wide enough for a wheelchair.
Uneasy Riders owes something to both One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and WR: Mysteries of the Orgasm but its style is its own. Shot digitally, its mobile camera suggests the hard-won mobility and independence of the residents – some played by non-professionals living at the home where it was shot. Olivier Gourmet is electrifying as René. Nadia Kaci plays Julie with lightness but real mettle. Uneasy Riders tackles sentimentalities about disability head-on, is bolshie and deadly serious, but it resonates with wonderful energy, humour and a sense of life worth living.Malcolm Lewis