THE STORY – Professional skier and BASE jumper Matthias Giraud pursues his passion for adventure while also starting a family.
THE CAST – Matthias Giraud
THE TEAM – Chase Ogden (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 77 Minutes
By Josh Parham
There is a vast array of genres that can inhabit the medium of documentary. It is, after all, just another form of storytelling that can explore just as many complex themes and characters as its fictionalized counterparts. A popular arena to explore is sports, a potentially divisive subject that can attract just as many people as it can repel. However, as long as there is an intriguing viewpoint to mine and discuss, the substance of the activity itself is only window dressing for a more thematically rich examination. “Super Frenchie” features some moments of genuine amazement at how it captures the life of a dedicated professional in a hazardous environment. Unfortunately, its commentary proves to be mostly shallow and inert.
The film centers on professional skier and BASE jumper Matthias Giraud, an ambitious athlete who has made headlines for his breathtaking leaps off high-altitude locations. It’s a passion that fuels every aspect of his life, and the need to keep going is insatiable. He does heavily consider the emotional toll this takes, particularly for his wife Joann on the eve of them starting a family. One day, Matthias eventually faces a severe accident that emphasizes the danger he constantly finds himself in and forces an evaluation of the life he leads. Still, his spirit cannot be completely broken, and the sheer force to continue seeking out these precarious yet majestic sights pushes him even more.
It’s not always fair to make direct comparisons from one film to another, especially when such comparisons aren’t explicitly made within either text. Yet it’s impossible not to consider “Free Solo” when watching this particular movie. Both are portraits of dedicated, trained performers who make a living by executing incredibly dangerous stunts to fulfill a sense of personal affirmation, all while balancing a domestic life at odds with their profession. This film comes up short in many instances compared to the Alex Honnold story. Still, it manages to feature some stunning sequences that place one intimately close to Matthias’s perspective during his jumps. The filmmaking itself never really elevates these moments beyond what’s captured in the GoPro cameras, but it’s impressive imagery regardless.
The jumps themselves are only part of the story. At the center is Matthias’s inquiry as a person, his life’s philosophy, and goals that propel him to leap into the void while knowing every attempt could be his last. The narrative only goes so deep, and the analysis of his motivations plays mainly on the surface. The obstacles he’s presented in his life, both physical and mental, aren’t portrayed as sufficiently challenging to force an evolution of his character, at least not until the end of the film when he’s many years older and obtains a glimmer of perspective. At the same time, the boisterous personality isn’t always that inviting. Every opportunity for more nuanced discussion seemingly boils down to the whims of an adrenaline junkie, which feels unsatisfying in a way to emotionally connect to Matthias. It’s not a mark against his personal character, but the film rarely takes opportunities to probe beyond what feels like grasping at faux sentimentalism right before the finish line emerges.
There is another element lurking throughout the film that unfortunately feeds into a somewhat disingenuous aspect that robs the movie of its authenticity. The prominent display of noticeable product placement might seem like a strange thing to single out, particularly since everyday life is filled with recognizable items that aren’t meant to convey much of anything. It seems even more appropriate for a professional athlete to showcase their branded gear. However, because this is a documentary, the attempts to center such products and make them seem natural to the scenes feel clunky and inorganic. It deserves to be called out here because this colors the format of the documentary process, and what is supposed to be an intimate observation of a complicated life comes across more as an embellished commercial to highlight the contractual obligations. Were it not for choosing a medium that is intended to thrive in non-fiction storytelling, it could be slightly forgiven. Rules and guidelines of this nature can be bent, but they feel utterly broken here.
There are moments in “Super Frenchie” that provide the jolt of energy that makes one appreciate the dedication its subject endures. Capturing these death-defying moments is truly a wondrous sight and provides a rare glimpse that few could even imagine. However, the core of the presented story doesn’t have much reach beyond that and instead features hollow themes and flat explorations. The results feel incredibly self-satisfying without ever earning a genuine emotional arc. If one is intensely interested in this topic, then there may be enough to be intrigued. However, this does not provide the most remarkable insight for those looking for anything more substantive.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The footage of the jumping stunts is impressive and provides a thrilling perspective.
THE BAD – The thematic explorations of the subject are hollow and dull, not really showcasing a satisfying emotional connection. The subject himself is not always a fascinating character, and his evolution comes across as mundane. The instances of product placement make the whole effort feel disingenuous at times.