"We wanted to make something artistic," said Louis Boniface, the 18-year-old gymnast-turned-slackliner who stars in it.
Slacklining is an extreme-sport version of tightrope-walking. It's performed on a length of flat webbing that offers lots of bounce. The technique is all about balance, fall and recovery, as this video, titled "Headway," makes clear. In the three-minute wordless minidrama, a violinist plays a melancholy melody as Boniface takes a few tentative steps on a slackline strung over a creek. He wiggles, falters, plummets into the water–and suddenly there's a silence, like he's let the whole world down.
But Boniface swings himself back onto the line. A few bounces later, the music starts up again and surges, and the camera zooms toward the diving, somersaulting Everyman-athlete. The camera circles above him with a dizzying view of how he turned a misstep into a triumph. He's flipping, twisting, arcing in air like Greg Louganis in sneakers.
As if in sympathetic response, the forest around him takes on the colors of an impressionistic ecstasy, turning from brown to purple to rosy pink.
In a recent phone interview, Boniface explained how he devised the video with his best friend, Yohann Grignou, who wrote the story and directed it. Boniface spoke from his home in La Verriere, a suburb west of Paris, near Versailles. (His French tumbled out with the speed you'd expect from someone addicted to the rush, but he nicely slowed down on request.)
"We wanted to reflect the truth," Boniface said. "On the slackline, life is in balance. You're always recovering. You're battling to stay on the line. It's a symbol of life in general."
He thought the video would be well-received, but the success has surprised him: More than 115,000 views on YouTube, and upwards of seven million Facebook views.
"What's been really, really good is that the message is understood by everyone, and that's very powerful for me," he said. "That's the most important thing, the thing that makes me smile."
Boniface has been navigating falls and aerial thrills for most of his life. He started out in gymnastics at age five. By seven, he said, he was the French champion in his age group. By 15 he was training 25 hours per week. That's when he quit and turned to slacklining. He practices mostly in his backyard.
He and Grignou made the video with four cameramen in the nearby woods of Trappes. They wanted to make a philosophical point about perseverance, and rising above mistakes, and how failure can make you stronger. They wanted to use their sport to express something about the human condition.
And they wanted to do it with art.
"We really wanted to transmit the message through the music and the colors and the ambiance, so that it's all harmonious," Boniface said.
The tension between that visual harmony and Boniface's vigor, abandon and precision is a large part of what makes the video so compelling. It's a combination of exhilaration and serenity, open-heartedness unleashed. That adrenaline-fueled buoyancy we see "is what I look for in the sport," he said, "and in life in general."
He has plans to take the video to festivals. Will he produce others like it? He and Grignou are hoping to start on another video this summer. But they're in no hurry. First, the meaning. Then the thrill.
"We haven't yet established the message," Boniface said. "We're still thinking about it. We want to innovate, and so we're taking our time. So we can surprise people."