Film review by Nathanial Eker
For every Tiger King and Fyre Festival that focus on bold, eccentric caricatures, there's a low-key slice of life story like Le Grand Saut (The Big Jump), which revels in the normalcy of the everyman. In spite of one perilous hobby, Alain Demaria is one such everyman. In just twelve minutes this sensational short gives us an extensive impression of who this man is and why he engages in such reckless behaviour. The combination of impactful testimonials and sharp cinematography and editing makes for a thoughtful documentary that highlights the struggles of harsh upbringings and the French working class more generally.
Alain Demaria defies warnings of danger and regularly jumps into the waters of Marseille from a great height. In fact, he regularly dives in head first, with his fists poised to smash the sea below him. Over the course of just over twelve minutes, he recounts the hardships of his life, including run-ins with the law, as well as his dreams and aspirations.
Humanity never ceases to surprise, and Demaria's descriptive account of his desire to jump as an almost religious experience is fascinating. He acknowledges the danger, but almost seems to view it as a penance of sorts. It seems to be something that he does, not just for the thrill, but to remove himself from his worries, even for a second. Indeed, the film emphasises the freedom of the jump by showing footage of other working class boys underneath Demaria's narration. This gives the action of diving an ethereal quality, not unlike a pilgrimage to a sacred spot; a place where these boys feel utterly themselves and perhaps ironically, utterly safe.
Of course, Demaria's fabled jump is anything but safe, something emphasised by intense close ups of crashing waves, often incorporating slow motion and quick cuts that leave the fate of the jumper ambiguous. There is no sensationalism, however; the film takes honesty as its modus operandi, not just in the portrayal of the rough waves of Marseille, but in conversations with Demaria who openly admits his troubled past.
What Le Grand Saut really presents is the common man looking for a way out. He dreams of a villa with its own diving spot, of a family, a wife. He takes pride in his occupation, his rejection of modern technology, and his love life. The jump then, while symbolic of his volatile past starts to become less important, as what is revealed is an intimately personal film about the most human struggles. Demaria never requests our pity, in fact, he seems to take most things in his stride with a characteristic French cheekiness. What he earns by the end of this short journey, however, is both our respect and our hope.