GAZE 2016: Sarah Prefers To Run
Director: Chloé Robichaud Starring: Sophie Desmarais, Jean-Sébastien Courchesne, Geneviève Boivin-Roussy Running Time: 94 minutes
The debut feature film of Quebecois writer-director Chloé Robichaud, Sarah Prefers To Run was screened at Cannes 2013 in the Un Certain Regard category, alongside the likes of The Bling Ring, Fruitvale Station and The Missing Picture. Though she is a gay filmmaker, it goes without saying that Robichaud is not at all obligated to make her film strictly a gay romance. An important part of representation is showing diverse characters in stories that are not solely about what makes them ‘diverse’ and the subjects of this film are not defined by their sexual identity. However the ideal is still to have characters who are complex and engaging for reasons besides their sexuality and the problems of Sarah Prefers To Run mostly come from a reluctance to show anything about its protagonist that can’t be gathered from its title.
Played by Sophie Desmarais, the titular Sarah is the standout athlete of her track squad in Quebec City, good enough to be offered a spot at McGill University in Montreal. Her family can’t afford to send her, or rather, her doubtful and worrisome mother would rather spend the money fixing up the garden, encouraging Sarah to find something else to do. She’d like for her daughter to get married, settle down and have kids, but Sarah prefers, well…
At least one of those three is achieved though, when Sarah leaves for Montreal with work colleague Antoine. To finance college and rent, the two (who barely know each other) enter into a marriage of convenience to receive financial aid from the government, an arrangement that’s compromised from jump street by his obvious attraction to her and her obvious ambivalence towards him. Bland nice boy Antoine not only fails to measure up to running, but also to Sarah’s teammate Zoey, to whom she has a tentative attraction.
There’s a catch-22 at play with Sarah as a character, Desmarais’ performance is natural and well-realised, with great body language, but she outmatches the typical indie dramedy lead she’s playing; obtuse, awkward and internalised. The camera stays up close with her a lot, which works very well in montages showing her burgeoning sexuality (a scene of her watching Antoine and then Zoey do karaoke is probably the film’s highlight), but keeping the film so firmly in her head proves frustrating when so often, she’s only thinking about running. The single-mindedness would be fine, but the focus is curious when Robichaud’s sensibilities and dry charm seem much better suited to character study than a sports story. The word ‘Olympics’ is mentioned, but is that a realistic ambition for Sarah? How does she measure up against the other girls at McGill? The films pulls back from its character relationships to follow a contrived plotline about heart problems and though Zoey asks Sarah what she would do if she couldn’t compete it can’t offer any answer, settling instead on ending in the style of The Wrestler, without the character work that made that such a poignant climax. The film, the director and particularly the lead have promise, but Sarah Prefers To Run fails to place after running down a narrative blind alley.