Friday, February 21, 2014

Les Arcs, l'espirit pionner: review of seminal new documentary film

 Click to see trailer
Click the image for trailer...
Anyone who's at all interested in Les Arcs and how if came to be here must see this excellent new DVD, Les Arcs, the pioneering spirit.  This 2013 production (with english subtitles) by Sophie Bosquet and Guillame Calop takes the form of interviews with many of the still-surviving pioneers, coupled with astonishing and highly entertaining contemporaneous film/video clips.

Roger Godino (his french is very easy to follow) carefully and clearly explains the challenges faced by the new project, from bringing about the 'fusion' of Bourg St Maurice and Hauteville-Gondon (one had the land, the other the financial clout) to the painful process of expropriation whereby 300 land owners were relieved of their chalets and montagnettes in return for tiny amounts of money.

Sadly Godino's principal co-pioneer Robert Blanc was killed in 1980, but the glowing personality of his brother Yvon and some charming film footage (see him ski in powder - brilliant) make his presence felt throughout the production.

Robert Blanc 1933 - 1980
Godino also clarifies the frequently misunderstood concept of 'total integration' whereby the resort should have control of every aspect of its exploitation, from the lifts and hotels to the bars and grocery shops. Profitable activities like ski hire would in effect subsidise loss-making operations like the lifts themselves, the original provision of which was deliberately over-scaled in relation to the number of beds (5000 at opening) in order to allow constant expansion toward the planned 40,000 beds to be spread between the 1600 and the future resorts of 1800 and 2000.

Bernard Taillfer building Arc 1800
Gaston Regauirez narrates the astonishing  architectural tale, and the involvement of the luminary Charlotte Perriand and local carpenter Bernard Taillefer (both appear in the film). The huge  intellectual, creative and financial effort required to turn  virgin forests and fields into a world class ski resort is clearly charted. The determination and utter commitments of the pioneers comes across and nicely balanced by their tremendous sense of enjoyment and passion for the environment they were working in. Plus their love for the white stuff, of course!

The fun and fizz of this film is infectious, and for one made me long to go back in time and to join the red-pullovered moniteurs as they leap (on skis) one after the other in the Cuopole swimming pool!  The cameo appearance of Elizabeth Chenal at the start of the film, with the words 'Nature is beautiful!' as she emerges from her home, the only surviving 'original' chalet on the pistes, is a touching reminder of the roots of Les Arcs and Blanc's origins as a simple shepherd.

The disc contains many 'bonus' items, including a selection of hilarious 1970s publicity films for Les Arcs, and a set of interviews with other key players in birth of the resort. Fascinating stuff for anyone who can follow the french and wants to know more about the antecedent 'Courbaton 1750' ski area and how that might have developed instead of the Arcs.

Apart from some badly-written english subtitles (and a few fairly elementary translation mistakes) this is a first class publication; no Acardien or Arcadienne should miss it!

Available from many shops in Les Arcs and Bourg St Maurice,or from Amazon.

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