The universal quandary faced by every filmmaker whose project concerns an extraordinary subject is quite how to convey their extraordinariness. It’s one thing to describe it, display it, prove it objectively; it’s entirely another thing to embody it, recreate it, engage with it actively. A movie like Super Frenchie doesn’t have to do much to prove the ways in which its subject, BASE jumper Matthias Giraud, is extraordinary — luckily, his career mandates the recording of all his most extreme endeavors. The trouble is, it doesn’t do much else. Super Frenchie is, in fact, the exact opposite of its subject: it’s dull, workmanlike and wholly ordinary.

Giraud is one of the top global figures in his field, a man evidently most deserving of the admiration he’s acquired over years of extreme skiing and BASE jumping. It’s a level of admiration as vertiginous as the cliff edges and mountain peaks from which he leaps, such that his income now comes from sponsorships — enough people are watching his daredevil feats to make their accomplishment alone profitable, provided Giraud jumps with a camera in one hand. This footage has attracted tens of millions of views on video websites and justifiably so.

But, then, why make a movie out of footage that already exists? Ogden’s imperative seems not to be editing existing material into something of much independent creative legitimacy, but rather to splice it into a conventional biodoc format. Scenes of incredible human achievement are thus interrupted by (too) numerous talking heads from a wide array of Giraud’s friends and family members, none of whom have much of substance to say. They make banal observations about his character and his lifestyle and provide context and color to his story — and nothing more.

If there are far too many faces to follow over Super Frenchie’s lean running time, that length itself isn’t a drawback. These 77 minutes are swiftly, almost frantically paced, sometimes eliding significant details in pursuit of the next heady high. Ogden cuts to the next BASE jump and then the next and so on — it’s consistently stunning stuff, if inevitably a bit repetitive — and keeps his movie from outstaying its welcome. Yet this is less an asset to the movie than it is a mollifier. You get what you came for, then you get to go.

It’s a dispiriting approach, all things considered, yet one that at least conceals Ogden’s primary shortcoming: his lack of inquisitiveness. If Giraud is such a remarkable person as this movie convincingly claims he is, quite what is it that makes him remarkable? What impacts are wrought on his character, his life and the lives of his loved ones? There’s a dash of family history, a pinch of introspection, an overly generous glug of sentimentality but almost no depth whatsoever. Our first glimpse of Giraud in closeup is of a slender, wide-eyed, unblinking young man. His hairstyle projects a possible insecurity about his hairline, a preoccupation that neither he nor Ogden appears to think the viewer will notice; his gaze is intense and fixed yet peculiarly spacey; his thirst for action and peril and his hyperactive personality become increasingly discordant with his age as time passes. He’s not just an extraordinary person but a highly unusual one, yet all psychological inquiry in Super Frenchie is rapidly reduced to sappy platitudes about following one’s dreams.

It’s thus that the movie leaves an unfortunate taste in the viewer’s mouth in the end. Giraud is a success story against considerable odds — odds that he’s familiar with, having suffered a potentially life-threatening injury when one especially risky ski BASE jump went awry. He’s a talented, attractive, optimistic man living his dream, encouraging everyone to follow his lead and live theirs too. Would that we could, Matthias! The trite banalities filled with empty positive affirmation that he resorts to each time he’s questioned on why he does the crazy things he does are crass and unrealistic to the average person, unlikely to be won over by a bit of woo-woo nonsense from an improbable overachiever. He’s spouting what he apparently believes to be extraordinary proclamations of inspiration. Like the movie itself, they’re not half as extraordinary as they ought to be.

Incredible BASE jumping footage in a movie otherwise so unremarkable it’s not worth the effort. The best bits are all on YouTube anyway.
39 %
Not So Super
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