If you’ve heard of Super Frenchie, an oddly titled, forgettable documentary about a man who makes a living jumping off of cliffs, you are either already a fan of that man (his name is Matthias Giraud) and are interested in hearing more of his story, or your interest might’ve been piqued by the film’s marketing, often comparing it to two other recent mountain-centric documentaries: Meru and the Oscar-winning Free Solo. I suppose, in the very strict definition of the approach, those who enjoyed the latter two films may find some similar glimmer of adventure and intrigue in Super Frenchie, but to compare it to those great extreme sport films about the types of people who pursue this life and the impact their choices have on their bodies, their mental health and their relationships is like comparing your kindergartener’s new artwork to a Picasso.
A messily edited narrative about Giraud’s life in the world of ski BASE jumping, where a daredevil skis down a mountain straight for a cliff’s edge, flies off of it like a pebble out of a slingshot and deploys a parachute for a (hopefully) safe landing, Super Frenchie is a frustratingly vague chronicle of the man, his life and his sport (is it a sport? I honestly don’t know. The movie never bothers to give us any sort of history about these things.). Though he is interviewed copiously and we do meet his parents, his wife and others important in his life, the film never makes an effort to contextualize any of his…can this be called “work,” what he does? There are appearances by others who one assumes are noteworthy in this world, and they speak to Giraud’s kindness and infectious spirit. We hear from many of them how his drive to jump off things is a need he’s felt since he was young, learning to ski as a toddler and making his own way down the bunny hills while his fellow students took the safe path forged ahead of them by the instructor.
Written, directed and edited by Chase Ogden, making his feature-length directorial debut, the film covers quite a significant swath of Giraud’s life; at one point, we do get a “Five Years Later” on-screen caption, but the passage of time is also fairly obvious as Giraud’s son is now a young child and he’s clearly been aged by the mountain sun and one particularly close call after colliding with a cliffside on a jump. The main thrust of the film seems to be trying to understand why Giraud does what he does, and no one quite has a satisfactory answer; even his wife seems to be resigned to the fact that he’s going to go off doing his jumps regardless of what she thinks or wants, grateful when he comes home alive but half expecting him not to. There’s probably an interesting story in here somewhere, about how this sport (let’s go with sport) came to be, the men (as I’m sure it’s mostly been men) who evolved it and the space it holds among other big nature pursuits like climbing the sides of mountains without any support or security (Free Solo) or climbing to a never-before-summited peak on a mountain in the Himalayas (Meru). But as is, Super Frenchie (which takes its title from the French-born jumper’s own nickname) plays more as a long home movie about a guy who does some crazy stuff sometimes.
Super Frenchie is now playing in virtual cinemas, including through Music Box Theatre.
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