Canadian Olympian Katerine Savard shines in Cannes-selected ‘Nadia, Butterfly’

Unlike many sports movies, Nadia, Butterfly is not about wins, losses or a comeback story. The usual cliches that often plague the genre aren’t found in the Cannes-selected film from Pascal Plante.

Instead the Canadian director explored the title character’s internal battle with redefining her existence after a virtual lifetime of pursuing elite athleticism.

“It’s a sports movie that is very mournful,” Plante said of the film, now showing in select cities and set for theatrical release across Canada in mid-October. ”It’s like the retirement is almost treated like death in a way.”

The role of Nadia is played by Olympic swimmer Katerine Savard, who makes her acting debut. Shot last year in Montreal and Tokyo, the film essentially creates an alternative Summer Games and examines Nadia’s last race and the days that follow.

Savard had the swimming chops down — she won relay bronze for Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Much like the reality for many Olympians who grapple with transition from sport, an emotional tug seemed to serve as a weight around Nadia’s neck that was at times heavier than any medal.

Savard, a University of Montreal grad, won butterfly gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She took a five-month break from swimming in 2018 and came back feeling recharged physically and mentally.

The subject matter was somewhat familiar to her and it came through in her acting performance.

“I’ve experienced so many emotions in my swimming career, (I) just had to think about all those experiences and all those emotions that (I’ve) been through already,” she said in a recent interview. “It was kind of easy to replicate in the movie.”

Plante does a masterful job of letting things breathe. One can almost hear the thoughts racing through Nadia’s mind during extended shots of her swimming lengths in the pool.

After coming up short in an individual race, the joy of reaching the relay podium does little to help with the character’s internal conflict. She breaks down at one point in a pool changing area and despite the glow from a medal-winning performance, later challenges her peers with blunt talk that is jarring but authentic.

“Sometimes Nadia is not always the virtuous hero,” Plante said. “Sometimes she’s a bit conflicted. Sometimes she doesn’t want to smile and sometimes she’s a bit bitchy. But I wanted to embrace all of those things because that’s what makes her human at the end of the day.”

The Olympic pool in Montreal was used to shoot racing scenes and computer-generated effects were added to make it look like a packed facility at the Tokyo Games.

“Nadia, Butterfly” was one of 56 films selected for the Cannes international film festival in France. It was billed as the lone Canadian film to make the cut from 2,067 overall submissions.

The Cannes festival was set for May but had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lineup was revealed last spring to give the films a badge of honour.

“Nadia, Butterfly” had a limited theatrical release this month in select Canadian cities and is available to stream at the Calgary and Vancouver International Film Festivals through early October. It’s also set for VOD release on Dec. 22.

Plante, a former elite swimmer himself, reached the Olympic Trials in 2008 but didn’t qualify for the Beijing Games that year. He consulted with Olympians to get first-hand knowledge for the project and eventually reached out to Savard.

“It sounds almost too good to be true that the best butterfly swimmer in Quebec turned out to be what we considered the best actress to do the role,” Plante said. “But that’s literally how it turned out.”

Savard, a 27-year-old native of Pont-Rouge, Que., still swims at an elite level and is hoping to qualify for the real Tokyo Games, now re-scheduled for 2021. Swimmers Ariane Mainville and Hilary Caldwell also star in the 106-minute film, along with Pierre-Yves Cardinal.

It’s the second feature film for Plante, a Concordia University grad who directed “Fake Tattoos” in 2017. The finishing touches on Nadia, Butterfly were made last February.

“I’m kind of happy that this film is kind of an odd experience in a way,” Plante said. “Like it’s an odd rhythm and an odd structure. It’s like it’s real, but it’s not. It’s metaphorical.

“There’s magic and yet I think it’s sociologically viable. I’m just proud we created a kind of weird film.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID cases climb in central zone, Red Deer

The total number of active COVID-19 cases in the province reached 3,138… Continue reading

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s municipal affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Energy industry support won’t injure municipalities

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Premier Jason Kenney participated in a livestream on Oct. 17, 2020. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
UCP members pass resolution at AGM calling for privately funded health care option

EDMONTON — Members of Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party have narrowly endorsed… Continue reading

“We weren’t sure what to expect with just doing the 50/50. We have been positively surprised with sales so far,” says Craig Fleming, co-chair of the Red Deer Kinsmen Club’s raffle. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Non-profits put their money on 50/50 draws

COVID impacts fundraising events

Student taking a math test. (Pixabay photo)
David Marsden: Students need more testing, not less

Testing has been central to Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s… Continue reading

Gillian Robertson celebrates her win over Sarah Frota during UFC 240, in Edmonton, Saturday, July 27, 2019. Robertson used her superior grappling skills to dominate Brazil's Poliano Botelho en route to a unanimous decision win Saturday night on a UFC Fight Night card. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian Gillian (The Savage) Robertson dominates in UFC decision win in Abu Dhabi

Canadian Gillian (The Savage) Robertson dominates in UFC decision win in Abu Dhabi

Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, right, hugs captain Kyle Bekker following their victory in the Canadian Premier League soccer final against Cavalry FC in Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. A month after winning the Island Games in Charlottetown, Hamilton-based Forge FC is back on the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CPL champion Forge FC off to El Salvador for CONCACAF League preliminary-round match

CPL champion Forge FC off to El Salvador for CONCACAF League preliminary-round match

Course workers prepare the landing area at the ski jump venue in Whistler Olympic Park in Whistler, B.C. Friday, Feb. 5, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Next generation of Canadian ski talent sets sights on Whistler, B.C., in 2023

Next generation of Canadian ski talent sets sights on Whistler, B.C., in 2023

Mighty Heart is held by groom Siobhan Brown in his stall at trainer Josie Carroll's stable at Woodbine Racetrack, in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. The one eyed horse, will run in the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes on October 24, attempting to become Canada's first horse to win the Triple Crown since Wando in 2003. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Rain could present big challenge in Mighty Heart’s quest to capture Triple Crown

Rain could present big challenge in Mighty Heart’s quest to capture Triple Crown

Veteran sniper Evgenii Dadonov excited to join Senators: ‘It’s a perfect fit’

Veteran sniper Evgenii Dadonov excited to join Senators: ‘It’s a perfect fit’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) gets pushed out of bund by Green Bay Packers free safety Darnell Savage (26) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Packers seek to bounce back after embarrassing defeat

Packers seek to bounce back after embarrassing defeat

World junior hockey championship opens on Christmas Day for first time since 2005

World junior hockey championship opens on Christmas Day for first time since 2005

Most Read