Top Docs: Adrenaline-Pumping ‘Super Frenchie’; ‘The Human Factor’; and More

LJ’s documentary film reviewer picks four gripping new works, now available on DVD/Blu-ray. 

Aalto. 99+ min. Film Movement. In multiple languages w/English subtitles. 2021. DVD UPC 5002111542. $24.99.

Alvar Aalto was one of the great architects of the 20th century. Primarily known for influential modern designs in his native Finland and around the world, Aalto had a career that stretched over 50 years, until his death in 1976. He didn’t work in a vacuum; this documentary, directed by Virpi Suutari, goes to great lengths to credit the architect’s first wife, Aino, for her work in tandem with Aalto—particularly their furniture designs, which helped lead the way in creating the Scandinavian design movement. While mostly about architecture and design, this film is also a tender love story between Alvar and Aino. Their letters to each other are read by narrators as they navigate their complicated lives and careers. VERDICT Essential viewing for anyone with an interest in architecture, particularly modernism.

All the Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding (1987–1997). 89+ min. Greenwich Entertainment. 2021. DVD UPC 3832925564. $19.99.

There’s no shortage of material on skateboarding culture out there, but this work looks into a less frequently mined topic—the impact of hip-hop and Black skaters in New York City. The best thing about Jeremy Elkin’s film is the terrific collection of archival footage of both skaters and hip-hop acts in 1980s New York. It’s a fast-paced kaleidoscope of music, skating, and culture; appropriately grainy lo-fi video of dimly lit NYC streets and nightclubs adds to the atmosphere. VERDICT An insightful look at the sport of skateboarding and how it influenced and was influenced by culture.

The Human Factor. 106+ min. Sony Pictures Classics. 2021. DVD UPC 433965723. $31.99.

This deep dive into the last three decades of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, seen through the lens of U.S. negotiators, is engrossing. At times, it feels like a thriller, as it bounces around exploring the many complications faced by world leaders pursuing a lasting peace in the region. Hearing the actual negotiators discuss strategy, philosophy, and their successes and failures in the midst of the high-stakes, high-pressure environment is absolutely riveting. VERDICT A fascinating work that helps clarify a complex subject.

Super Frenchie. 77+ min. Greenwich Entertainment. 2021. DVD UPC 3832925321. $19.99.

It takes a certain kind of mindset to willingly court danger and possible death by BASE jumping, like Matthias Giraud. Most people will never jump off a cliff on skis, but this documentary, directed by Chase Ogden, lets viewers live vicariously through Giraud, with one jaw-dropping sequence after another. Giraud is charismatic and joyful, which leads to interesting philosophical discussions about his sport and the ramifications it might have for his wife and child. VERDICT Viewers who are afraid of heights should be warned, but this documentary will give thrill-seeking adventurers a serious adrenaline rush.

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