A while back, I put together an interview with Haroun Souirji, a Belgian filmmaker that was about to release his first feature film. He called it Better than Chocolate, a reference to the quality of bouldering in Switzerland; the subject of the film. I could tell Haroun had sunk his heart and soul into the film and after watching the movie, I'd say it paid off.
The film opened with a fast-paced montage of all the sick bouldering I was about to see and then immediately slowed down for an interview with one of the founding fathers of Magic Wood, who talked about the importance of the place he loved. I could tell right away that this movie was about the place first and foremost. Haroun's focus on the setting was apparent throughout the movie and fortunately the bouldering areas in Switzerland are some of the most beautiful in the world.
The cinematography was on par with the best I've seen in a bouldering film. Haroun showcased the beauty of the area by slipping in shots of nature like moss, spiders, foliage, or rushing water. He was able to keep the flow of the movie so that you barely notice those shots interspersed among the climbing footage. You just 'feel' like you are outside, there among the boulders of Magic Wood or Chironico.
With the backdrop so eloquently laid out, it seemed effortless to overlay the action in this film. One thing that I really enjoyed was Haroun's treatment of the cast of characters and problems. I use those terms in the same breath because it seems that equal importance was given to both world famous subjects and lesser knowns, both boulders and climbers.
The film is not a rock star worship-fest, nor is it a bunch of Joes you've never heard of. It lies somewhere between with lower end moderates climbed by some folks you may have just been introduced to, to V15 test-pieces climbed by none other than Paul Robinson. Perhaps oddly, is that the 'big sends' weren't the highlights for me in this film. Most climbing films come to a crescendo with the hardest ascent as the climax of the film. Robinson's ascent of the V15 From Dirt Grows the Flowers comes somewhere in the middle, as does Chris Webb Parson's first ascent of Bella Luna (V13) and Michele Caminati's ascent of The Dagger (V14). Though extremely impressive climbs, they seem to share similar honors with the other beautiful problems of Switzerland. Just as memorable is the well-edited footage of The Riverbed (V13) and Robert Leistner's ascent of a super highball, yet relatively moderate, arête.
Chris Webb Parsons on the first ascent of Bella Luna (V13)
In the end, nothing could wrap up a bouldering film about Switzerland better than Fred Nicole, and Better Than Chocolate finishes on that note. Despite being the biggest bouldering superstar of all time, Fred remains humble and quiet. The grades drop away from the boulders when Fred is around and somehow he reminds us of why we climb in the first place.
For me, the long-term test of a climbing film's quality is how many times I can watch it. I've watched Better Than Chocolate a few times now and it keeps entertaining. It's not the kind of movie I watch to 'get psyched' or 'crush my project.' It is inspirational in a different way. It makes me want to go outside.