Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2020: "Super Frenchie"

Michael Hayward

Super Frenchie opens with an arial shot of a solitary figure on skis, standing on a snowy, knife-edge ridge, surveying the valley stretching out below. This is our introduction to Matthias Giraud (nickname: "Super Frenchie"), a professional "ski-baser" and risk-taker. Giraud explains his intended route: down this steep slope, into that chute, a couple of turns, then "straight to heaven." Moments later we experience his high-speed descent, as filmed through Giraud's helmet-mounted camera, up to and then past the point of no return, when he launches himself out into space. A few seconds of free-fall follows, before the bright red canopy of his parachute is deployed against a deep blue sky. It's a moment of sheer terror, followed by a moment of transcendent beauty, as we look back at the cliff edge where an avalanche, triggered by Giraud's run, is now spilling a cascade of pure white snow into the abyss.

Giraud is unquestionably an example of a rare breed; few would be willing to do what he does with such apparent sang-froid. We hear from a few of Giraud's peers and fellow adrenaline junkies (as well as from both of Giraud's parents), who attempt to explain just what makes him tick. “The guy is intense," says Todd Davis, BASE jumper and TV host. "He’s taking, if you’re lucky, 80 years of a life and squeezing that 80 years into, like, 5 years.”

[One such testimonial comes from a "professional skier and BASE jumper"; another from a "cinematographer and speed rider" – you can't help asking: what on earth are these professions? And why is it that high school guidance counsellors never seem to speak of them?]

In many ways Super Frenchie is typical of the films shown during "mountain film" festivals: it's a documentary on extreme sports; it's a profile of yet another adrenaline junkie, someone living the kind of life which does not usually end well. Films like this are popular because they're a safe way for movie-goers to vicariously experience a more dangerous way of life (accompanied by handfuls of buttered popcorn). What makes Super Frenchie better than most of its kind is Giraud's willingness to question his own motives: why is he continually drawn to this way of life? Is it selfish of him to continue in such high-risk activities, particularly now that he's married, and soon to be a father?

At one point, standing on the brink of yet another cliff off of which he is about to jump, he reflects: “Aside from fear, there’s not really anything telling me no.” And then another back flip into space.

There's some frank discussion of the very real risk of death, referred to by those who risk it as "going in." At one point Giraud pays tribute to Shane McConkey, a peer and mentor (and one-time Vancouver native), who died in 2009 while attempting a ski-BASE jump in the Italian Dolomites. “He contributed a lot and he had a great run.“ But: “Fear of death is not a valid excuse to give up on your dreams.“

Fans of extreme sports (and enthusiastic spectators of same) will probably enjoy Super Frenchie, which is available for streaming through the VIFF Connect app until October 7th. A trailer for the film can be viewed here. Visit the VIFF website for more information on VIFF 2020.



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