EYES WIDE OPEN
La Grave's Trifide 4, Evolution In The Mountains
Eyes Wide Open, directed by Florian Monot and Ludovic Chauchaix, is Lange's newest film. It tells the story of two skiers from the small village of La Grave, France, with a shared vision. Tucked in the deep recesses of the Southern Alps, under the shadow of one of Western Europe's tallest peaks—La Meije—two determined skiers come together in this project to try to bag a legendary line threatened by climate change. Joe Vallone is an American IFMGA mountain guide and La Grave transplant, living every second of his life to the fullest. Pierre-Louis Cret is a young man training to become a guide: learning, observing, and growing with Joe's help. Their goal, the Y Couloir (pronounced Y-grec), is a terribly exposed and unforgiving line with no room for error, dangling halfway down the rock and ice-strewn face of 3,984-metre La Meije. The couloir has its own life, its own moods, breathing and changing with the elements—it only allows passage at certain times. It reminds us Mother Nature is always in charge, and she needs our protection if she's going to keep nurturing us by providing such rare moments.
Sat in a secluded valley at the edge of the Écrins massif, the village of La Grave is a place of endless possibility. It draws mountain enthusiasts like a magnet, luring them with wonder and intrigue. There is no piste in La Grave, only the télépheerique that delivers skiers into the raw, untamed high-mountains. It offers unmatched freedom, but also enormous consequences, all framed by the constraints of Mother Nature.
People in La Grave are known for their dedication to skiing's roots, fostered by the enormous terrain that's connected them to the landscape and shaped their values. While humans the world over have shaped the landscape to them, here the landscape has shaped the humans.
Here, life is lived simply, in constant communion with nature, as part of the evolution of the environment and its climate.
An Ever-Changing Glacier
The people of La Grave describe their home as a small village with a cable car that goes to 3,200 meters above sea level, to the foot of massive glacier. The glaciers tumbling from La Meije have attracted freeriders from far and wide for decades now. There is no grooming here, there are no rope lines, no manipulated environments. The mountain is raw and natural, requiring skiers and riders to navigate it as it is. Its distinctive character has captivated skiers from around the world, who come to settle here, absorb its unique atmosphere, and live their alpine dreams. Among them is Joe Vallone, a boisterous American who arrived in La Grave fifteen years ago for all the same reasons, and never left.
Uncle Joe, A Paradigm of Passion
Captivated by La Grave's special gravity, Joe made this village his home—his sanctuary. Since settling here 15 years ago, he's carefully studied the mountain every day. As such, he's witnessesd its changes. Joe is a passionate individual, sometimes bordering on obsessive. The mountain is like a living soul to him; he observes it endlessly, but respects the moments when it requires stillness, silence, and tranquility, as part of the deal it takes to be granted safe passage when her mood is right.
Motivated, sincere, and driven, Joe's offbeat humor pairs with his other life as a musician. But beneath all that stagey bravado lies a reserved and sensitive personality. Joe is a character who, like this village, inspires individuality and freedom. "Joe skied that couloir, or this line, today," one often hears in the valley at the end of the day, helping build his lore as a soul skier far from the cameras.
Pierre-Louis, The Fastest Young Skier in the Valley
Pierre-Louis is a young skier born in La Grave, son to a mountain guide father and a mother deeply rooted in the environment. He grew up with the mountain; it's within its grandiose landscape that he built himself, flourished, and found his balance—his rhythm. Here, at home, he is now preparing to turn his passion into his profession by becoming a mountain guide too. A big part of his practice is learning from mentors like Joe. As such, an unlikely friendship has formed between these two contrastingly different individuals. Joe, motivated by his mountain madness and deep intuition, as compared to Pierre-Louis, a slow, thoughtful, cautious character. Bound by a shared project, there's now an enduring chemistry between the two, and much common ground.
A Shared Project: Skiing the Y Couloir
Prominently visible from the cable car, it overlooks the wholw valley. Magnetic and captivating, the Y seems alive. In its own way, it breathes, and is constantly in motion. Joe and Pierre-Louis have been studying it for years, watching it record the tides of the changing climate year after year. Only a few years ago, it was a challenging but reasonable objective, and it wasn't uncommon for it to fill in enough to make the descent through its rocky fetch. Today, opportunities to ski it are rare. Many classic lines have become difficult or even improbable to bad these days. The Y Couloir stands as a case study of change in the mountain environment. A solemn monument to the fact that guides rely on these landscapes for their practice and their profession.
Joe has watched and waited patiently over the years, for those times of passage. The mountain has provided him 29, to be exact. That's how many times he's skied it, and every time it's been different. So has his approach. "It either works or it breaks you," he says soberly, noting that falling down it can kill you.
Pierre-Louis, like most people, has never skied it. "The Y, we know it's there, just below us. It attracts and terrifies us. It's right there, within reach of our skis, yet so scary, so inaccessible, so steep, so unforgiving," he ruminates.
The Y is a story about shared vision and passion. About passing the torch, about making sure the next generation gets to experience the same wonders as the last. It's story of mentorship, and the environment's we thrive in.