(2020) Documentary (Greenwich) Matthias Giraud, Joann Giraud, Jesse Hall, Erik Roner, Julian Carr, J.T. Holmes, Josephina Giraud, Robert Giraud, Todd Davis, Denny Dragan, Chad Labass, Stefan Laude, Soren Giraud, Suzanne Montgomery. Directed by Chase Ogden
There are some among us who are driven to do things that, on the surface, seem foolhardy if not downright crazy. They jump out of airplanes with only a piece of cloth to keep them from being smashed into human jelly on the unforgiving ground below. They pit themselves against mountains, waves, and whatever else nature might throw at them. And among these, there are some who are driven to push the boundaries even further.
Matthias Giraud is one such. Born in France but currently residing in Oregon, he caught the skiing bug early on family vacations in the French Alps. But it wasn’t until he caught videos of Shane McConkey flying off the mountainsides with a parachute that he found something that truly spoke to him. McConkey became a friend and a mentor and Giraud became one of the best in the world at ski BASEing.
The garrulous Giraud describes the times when he is flying off the edge of a mountain, free of gravity, as the only times he’s truly happy. Driven by a childhood in which he grappled with depression and considered suicide (he talks about his mother Josephine being manipulative and overbearing), he pursued his passions with a vengeance that borders on addiction. But after meeting Joanne, an American woman who seems to understand him better than anyone, he married her and she eventually got pregnant.
Realizing that the presence of a child in his life would change things, Matthias wanted to check off a few of his bucket list items while he could, which included a skiBASE off of one of the peaks he grew up skiing on in France. It was there, three weeks before Joanne was due, that he launched hiself off the cliff and was promptly blown into the side of the mountain, and tumbled down in horrifying fashion.
He was lucky. He survived the fall, albeit with severe injuries. He had to relearn how to walk again, but he was at least home when his wife gave birth to their son Soren. But giving up his passion wasn’t even a question. He would get back to doing what he loved.
And therein lies the issue at the heart of Super Frenchie. It is discussed, but essentially we hear how Joanne understands that this need to skiBASE is part of who Matthias is, and as Matthias goes back to the mountain where he nearly lost his life, he writes a heartfelt letter to his son in case the mountain beats him again and he doesn’t come home. His mother puts the issue succinctly; “I support what he does, but it is a bit selfish.” And there’s the rub. Does the fulfillment of his need for the high that comes with risking his life outweigh his responsibilities to his wife and young son? It bears mentioning that his mentor, McConkey, died skiBASEing in Italy, leaving behind a wife and three-year-old daughter.
This is the central discussion that the film raises but Ogden mainly brushes it aside. I think that the movie would have benefitted from a discussion of how incredibly dangerous what Giraud does, and the human toll it has taken in terms of lives lost. The inventor of the wingsuit that Giraud wears died. The man who invented skiBASEing died. The man who invented BASE jumping also died. Giraud appears to define his manhood by the will to go after his dreams, but is the price worth it? I wonder if McConkey’s daughter thinks so.
The footage that we see of Giraud flying off of mountains is nothing short of spectacular, I’ll grant you that. But it makes me wonder about the generations of starry-eyed kids inspired to take up this dangerous sport to achieve the high that Matthias does, and what price they will ultimately pay.
REASONS TO SEE: Spectacular skiBASEing footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: One has to wonder about whether this is an expression of a massive ego.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Giraud has made a name for himself as being the first to skiBASE off a number of mountains, including the Matterhorn and Mount Hood in Oregon.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now,Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Row8, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/29/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Free Solo
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10