Life as a 14-year-old jockey apprentice at France’s sole equestrian academy, Le Moulin N’Avon, starts off resembling a romantic period piece in “Lads and Jockeys,” set as it is to the strains of jazz and lit like a moody Parisian bar. But as the camera zooms in on slender, barely pubescent boys lugging around saddles as big as themselves or cleaning out stables at the crack of dawn, that dreamy feeling goes away. Quickly, you realize (just as the newly accepted students do) that everything that goes on here is about hard work, discipline and endless labor. And, in the end, there’s no fanfare and no rewards, or even the guarantee of a seat on a racehorse.
Those deemed unsuitable are filtered out at a fairly early stage and relegated to positions as caretaker and stable hand — a cruel fate for boys who had come with high hopes for a glorious future. Some of them can’t take it and pack up for home. Others may stay, but the misery on their faces is plain. The best out of the crop stay to work and aim for excellence whether they get to be on the saddle or not. “Lads and Jockeys” is a documentary, but director Benjamin Marquet pulls out the stops on noninvolvement — he obviously feels these lads are special, and he dotes on their words and expressions like a proud father. He not only loves them, he totally admires them.