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Sarah Prefers to Run

Sarah Prefers to Run stars Sophie Desmarais as Sarah, a driven, closed-off young woman living in Quebec City. Running is her life in the same way that chess club or the band is for other high school students: an all-consuming passion that has effectively obliterated any semblance of a social life. Thankfully, she’s incredibly talented, attracting the attention of McGill University, which wants her to be part of their competitive middle-distance team. But how can she afford it when her mother (Hélène Florent) won’t financially support her, arguing that running “isn’t going to put food on the table” when she needs a job later in adulthood?

Writer-director Chloé Robichaud, making her feature debut, provides an answer that, in lesser hands, would be the stuff of lame Hollywood romantic-comedy pitches. Sarah’s friend, Antoine (Jean-Sébastien Courchesne), will also be attending McGill and proposes that they get legally married, which would allow them to receive specific college scholarships. There’s no romantic spark between them—they’re doing it purely for mercenary reasons.

It will not surprise anyone that eventually Antoine develops feelings for this woman, but Sarah Prefers to Run complicates matters by populating McGill with another person Sarah knows: Zoey, a fellow middle-distance runner and a semi-friendly competitor of hers. But Sarah’s desire to best this woman slowly, almost imperceptibly begins to evolve into something else—a feeling she can’t quite fathom but is certainly different than any emotion she has for her sham husband.

If this plot description makes Sarah Prefers to Run sound like a romantic triangle mixed with a sports movie, it’s not inaccurate, but Robichaud transcends traditional genres to deliver something far more idiosyncratic and moving. If anything, the movie is a romantic quadrangle, with Sarah weighing her obsession with running against her personal connection to other people. But Robichaud refuses to nail down precisely where Sarah’s heart might end up—appropriate since her heart is also a serious factor in the decision. Diagnosed with a possible arrhythmia, she may need to abandon running for the good of her health. But Sarah isn’t sure if she can bear the thought.
- Tim Grierson, Paste

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