The work of an acrobat in a travelling circus is much more than just a job to Sebastién Bruas. ‘This is my life, and I love that,’ he says in the short documentary Stretch. ‘I have no idea what I can do if I stop.’ He’s at his happiest and highest while feeling the adrenaline, freedom and even fear born of performing atop the trapeze. And because of this, keeping his body in the best condition possible isn’t just central to his safety and livelihood, but at the core of his sense of self. However, as the oldest member of his troupe, his body has recently begun to tell him it might be time to stop. It’s a message that his mind isn’t eager to receive, even as it grows louder with every performance.
Stretch follows the waning days of Sebastién’s career on the road as a performer in Europe, including a brief pit stop to Paris to visit his parents. Besides this trek home, where his loving mothers discuss with him how it could be time to pivot from performing to teaching, very few words are spoken in the film. Instead, the Welsh director Jay Bedwani skilfully conveys emotion through visuals and sounds. Sebastién’s careful attunement to his body is conveyed at the film’s opening through a series of close-ups that show him stretching and drawing deep breaths. Later, the quiet intensity of standing atop the trapeze is drawn out via the sights of the acrobats swaying in slow motion and the sounds of their bodies rippling through the air as scaffolding creaks beneath their landings. Sebastién’s unease with his personal crossroads permeates several wordless scenes. In one, he contorts and examines his face in the mirror. In another, he stands with a much younger acrobat atop the trapeze. Towards the end, he gives a fellow performer a long hug after the show, and the film leaves it uncertain whether that was his last.
With its close-up shots of Sebastién’s body, sound design that immerses you in his mind and scenes depicting intimate moments in his life, Stretch is a deeply personal portrait of its subject. But, even as Sebastién’s work may seem to exist in a world distant from the day-to-day realities of most viewers, Bedwani’s chronicle of a life in transition confronts universal themes. When is it time to draw your youth to a close? To retire? To look to new challenges? Simply put, when is it time to move on? Stretch doesn’t presume to offer simple answers to such difficult questions, but rather invites viewers to contemplate them as an inevitable part of a meaningful life.
Written by Adam D’Arpino