Super Frenchie

Super Frenchie creates two seemingly incompatible reactions. On one hand, you can't deny that its daredevil subject is crazy for participating in life-threatening activities. On the other, it's hard not to be impressed by the insane stuff he pulls off. Matthias Giraud is a professional BASE jumper, and the documentary follows him on a quest for more and more extreme surfaces from which to leap. This occurs at the same time that he and his wife are starting a family.

A lifelong skier, Giraud quickly took to ski jumping, then moved on to jumping off bridges and parachuting to the ground. Later, he discovered others were combining those things, finding steep cliffs on mountains and skiing right off them. Giraud knew he wanted to be part of this. Many scenes in the film are dedicated to showing exactly what he does. GoPro cameras provide a dizzying, breathtaking glimpse of his experiences. The fear of injury is ever-present, and indeed one happens just days before the birth of his first child. Giraud has to decide whether it's worth continuing to risk his life, knowing catastrophe would leave his wife widowed and his son fatherless.

Obviously, there are quite a few thrills in Super Frenchie. Watching the footage of Giraud BASE jumping is enough to make you hold your breath or grip the armrests of your chair. At the same time, it's a compelling examination of the psychology behind such extreme behavior. There is clearly an addictive quality to it, with adrenaline affecting him as much as heroin affects a drug addict.

What surprised me is that Giraud has his own messed-up philosophy that allows him to justify taking foolish risks. Before having a child, he claims to be super-careful, making it unlikely that he'll be harmed. After having a child, that philosophy shifts. While acknowledging the selfishness of persisting with the dangerous jumps, he tells himself that he'd be a poor role model if he didn't teach his son the value of pursuing one's dreams. So many things are wrong with that sentiment, from the suggestion that being a good parent is a less important dream than jumping off a cliff, to the fact that he's already fulfilled his dream to a large extent.

Such is the nature of Super Frenchie. The film wisely doesn't judge Giraud, instead letting the viewer form their own opinion of him. Is he a pioneer, fearlessly demonstrating the boundaries to which human beings can push themselves, or a self-centered risk-taker who gets high thumbing his nose at death? Or could he possibly be both? If you have even a remote curiosity about daredevil feats, Super Frenchie is worth seeing so you can decide for yourself.

out of four

Super Frenchie is unrated, but contain brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 17 minutes.