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CANNES — A young woman races ahead to adulthood, but not without tripping up along the way, in Quebecois writer-director Chloe Robichaud’s debut dramedy, Sarah Prefers to Run (Sarah prefere la course). Although the concept is intriguing on paper, this tragic-comic tale of a track star’s arduous sexual awakening feels too thin both narratively and cinematically, struggling with a belabored storyline as it heads towards the final lap. Still, the film dishes out a few memorably bittersweet moments, and lead Sophie Desmarais’ well-tuned performance is definitely worth catching. Fests and small-scale theatrical should follow a Cannes Un Certain Regard premiere.
“I want to run,” is what 20-year-old Sarah (Desmarais) says to everyone, including her highly doubtful mom (Helene Florent), when they ask her what she wants out of life. And so, after excelling on her Quebec City track squad, Sarah decides to pack up her stuff and move, along with local boy Antoine (Jean-Sebastien Courchesne), to Montreal, where she’ll be training for the big leagues as a member of the McGill Athletics Team.
If such a set-up seems like your typical triumph-over-tears sports story, Robichaud definitely has something else in mind, and once the two friends arrive in town, the story shifts to focus on Sarah’s shaky personal life, including her burgeoning attraction to fellow teammate Zoey (Genevieve Boivin-Roussy). But that only happens after she and Antoine decide to get married for financial aid purposes—a decision that Sarah never takes seriously, while Antoine grows more and more attracted to his wife/roommate.
Although there are many elements here to make for compelling drama, Sarah remains a fairly obtuse character, bottling up her feelings and opinions until they literally make her sick when, midway through the story, she starts having heart problems. That additional plotline, with the idea that Sarah could literally run herself to death, feels contrived and winds up overshadowing the potentially interesting relationships with Zoey and Antoine, which never seem to move past the starting blocks.
Otherwise, Robichaud’s direction has a few too many indie film tics, with lots of dead air hanging in between the minimalist dialogues, and the kind of deliberate insert shots (ironic fortune cookie proverbs, images of suburban sprawl) that we’ve seen a tad too many times.
Where the film does succeed is in the nicely handled performances, especially from Desmarais (Curling, Heartbeats) and Courchesne (Jo pour Jonathan), who have pretty good chemistry, even if they don’t always have much to work with. Giving it all in the various–though all too short–racing sequences, while providing a few moments of deadpan humor, Desmarais manages to ultimately outrun Sarah herself, providing the kind of character-building legwork that the film never fully offers.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Production companies: La Boite a Fanny
Cast: Sophie Desmarais, Jean-Sebastien Courchesne, Genevieve Boivin-Roussy
Director, screenwriter: Chloe Robichaud
Producer: Fanny-Laure Malo
Executive producers: Rene Malo, Chloe Robichaud
Director of photography: Jessica Lee Gagne
Production designer: Bruno-Pierre Houle
Costume designer: Noemie Poulin
Editor: Michel Arcand
Sales Agent: eOne Films International
No rating, 97 minutes
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