Few Words comes right on time as a testament to a skier that has been absolutely instrumental to the development of free-skiing but has not been in the forefront of the movies and the magazines over the past few years like some of his compatriots. The world needs to be reminded of the role Candide Thovex has played in skiing as well as the fact that he is still a force to be reckoned with.
Few Words is an apt title. Thovex is an innovative and pioneering skier not a publicity machine with a knack for saying things that stir up controversy. Director Matt Pain, who’s more well-known for snowboarding films than ski movies, weaves a clear and compelling tale through archival footage and interviews with Thovex’s family and contemporaries. True to the title, Thovex says only a few words throughout this documentary and even those arrive via the archival film segments and in one voice-over toward the end of the film. “He lets his skiing do the talking” is something that’s going to be said or written repeatedly in connection with Few Words.
Few Words opens lyrically with a series of beautiful, nay stunning, slow motion aerial shots in British Columbia. The lighting is exactly right and totally nails the BC vibe. The opening’s leisurely feeling is then punctured with hit after hit with Thovex exquisitely stomping pillow runs, big mountain thrillers, and massive kickers. It’s the same cinematic vibe seen in Thovex’s “Candide Kamera” webisodes. But it’s a good touch from Pain, because it establishes a nice, smooth pace for the film. And, coincidentally or not, that’s Candide’s approach in his skiing – smooth and fluid, making the most difficult maneuvers look easy.
The gist of the Thovex story is the classic sort of stuff common with extraordinary talent; starting from boyhood and with rambunctious energy and lively imagination, he’s afforded the opportunity to ski with cutting edge snowboarders and pro skiers and in a perfect environment at Balme near La Clusaz France. He adapts snowboarding moves to skis and so acts as a catalyst in the progression of free skiing. A series of great competition wins follows, among them: X Games gold in 2000 for Big Air (at age 17) and X Games gold in 2003 and 2007 for Slopestyle. And then disaster strikes and it’s a helluva hit. At his signature event, the Candide Invitational, in 2007 with ski conditions that did not permit enough speed to clear the 44 metre flat section of the Big Bertha jump, Candide crashes and breaks his back.
Few Words has Thovex disappearing for a few years to heal and then coming back with a series of eye-opening web videos (the aforementioned “Candide Kamera”) where he’s transferred his big air skills out of the park and into back country and big mountain settings. He then goes on to win the 2010 Red Bull Linecatcher competition as well as the 2010 Freeride Tour overall. It’s an astonishing transformation, not just because he broke his back and had to recover but because of the demands that the big-mountain environment makes of skiers – it’s a different skill set and his success is a testament to the fact that Thovex is, plain and simple, a phenomenal skier.
As Few Words goes into it’s final act, its back to the one-man wrecking crew action: triple backflips in the backcountry and shredding steep lines on sheer faces. It’s no wonder Few Words won Best Male Performance at the 2013 Powder Video Awards (along with a host of other wins), the skiing here is what you expect and what you demand when you watch a ski movie. Straight-up adrenaline rush.
Few Words can’t be watched without thinking of Iberg and Nelson’s terrific story-telling about Tanner Hall’s career in one of the other great ski documentaries Like A Lion. While the voluable Hall provided a lot of insight into his motivation to achieve what he’s done, there no such insight from Thovex. The viewer is not afforded a real opportunity to get into Thovex’s head (on top of that you barely see Thovex’s head as it’s usually got a hat and goggles on it throughout). As the voice-over in the beginning says, so much of Thovex’s motivation “is left up to the imagination”. Does this detract from the story? Perhaps on that one level but given that there’s so much skiing here, both old footage and new, his story as a skier is solidly laid out.
What’s cool with Few Words is to go back and watch the opening sequences with Candide slashing and stomping huge runs after you know what happened in his accident. Watch him make the lightning fast adjustments to pull himself out of the slight slips that would otherwise lead to absolute disaster. The dude has still got it. Truly inspirational. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail