New Documentary Delivers the Thrills and Goes Into the Mindset of BASE Jumper Matthias Giraud



Super Frenchie is a new documentary released on DVD earlier this year by Kino Lorber. The film chronicles the adventures and mishaps experienced by Matthias Giraud, a French man who’s developed a talent for skiing down ridiculously steep mountain slopes and finishing his excursions by hurtling off cliffs and landing safely thousands of feet below (assisted of course by a parachute that allows him to glide across great distances as he seeks a suitable clearing in the valley.  Most likely to be of interest mainly to those who enjoy the vicarious thrills of watching seemingly fearless individuals put life and limb at risk for the sake of an intense adrenalin rush, the film also provides access to the unique personality and worldview of this young man who discovered his love of soaring through the sky at a very young age.

Giraud grew up in the French Alps, took skiing lessons before he had started any formal education, and quickly developed a knack for steering himself away from the group so that he could locate small jumps that allowed him to get some air between his skis and the surface of the earth. As much as any artist, athlete, business person or highly skilled professional that one might ever name, Giraud seems to have been destined for what became a highly dangerous but also lucrative and fulfilling occupation from his earliest days. His stunts have been getting significant media coverage for years, though most of that seems to have been relegated to the niche market of extreme sports videos and websites that cater to that community and its fans.

While Super Frenchie deserves to be regarded as a key entry into the documentary record of this kind of activity, especially on the technical side of how such potentially lethal leaps into the void are planned and executed, the film offers an in-depth and sustained opportunity to consider the focused mindset and obsessive dedication that motivates Giraud to press himself ever further into riskier and unprecedented feats. He was already approaching his mid-30s when writer/director/producer Chase Ogden shot the film. Not only was he starting to approach that age when the body becomes a bit less resilient to the myriad of strains and injuries that almost inevitably occur even in a “successful” jump, Giraud was also married and with a son.

He clearly understood and articulated the risks that his occupation presents in the way of occupational hazards, and the interview portions of Super Frenchie give him plenty of time and space to address the kinds of questions that many of us might want to ask a guy who’s already proven himself by completing so many incredible stunts: Why continue with such a dangerous pastime that might kill or disable you in an instant when you have loved ones who depend on you? What fuels this seemingly insatiable need to experience that flying/floating sensation for just a few minutes at most, when it requires weeks and months of preparation and sacrifice just to arrive at that fleeting moment of freefall? What’s the exit plan for a career path when circumstances finally indicate that it’s time to retire from the scene or at least scale back to a point where you’re no longer recognized as the pre-eminent practitioner of the combined disciplines of wilderness skiing and BASE jumping?

I’m glad to report that Super Frenchie provides the audience with Giraud’s answers to those questions and others along that line, and also gives us an opportunity to get to know his wife, son and others a bit as they accompany him in his quest. This balance of human interest with amazing first-person POV visuals (yes, there’s a lot of Go Pro footage included here!) makes Super Frenchie a rather stimulating and enjoyable combination of character study and virtual thrill ride. With a brief 77-minute runtime and a trailer that serves as a pretty decent highlight reel if you just want a quick recap of some of the film’s most spectacular sequences, I can easily recommend the DVD published by Kino Lorber. I’m a bit surprised that Super Frenchie isn’t available in Blu-ray format, as the impressive mountainscapes and action sequences would look even better in HD.

But perhaps there’s too much SD material in the footage that Ogden had to work with, or Kino just figured that there isn’t a fully developed market for this kind of film that would create sufficient demand for a Blu-ray. Really that’s the only downside I could come up with as far as this release is concerned. The portrayal of Giraud as a considerate person and philosophically sophisticated thinker left me with a very positive impression and increased empathy for people like him who devote so much of their lives to activities that are by their nature very ephemeral but also extremely dangerous. That equation of risk + required resources to achieve the outcome of hurtling through space for a few minutes doesn’t add up the same for me, but I do appreciate that a film like Super Frenchie presents a fascinating psychological portrait of Matthias Giraud, a charismatic soul that the rest of us can contemplate and imagine what it might be like to do something like that, without having to strap on the skis and ‘chutes ourselves.