TORONTO - The coming-of-age track drama "Sarah Prefers to Run" sure has legs.
After visiting Cannes earlier this year, Chloe Robichaud's debut feature courted English-language audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival and from there it was announced it was one of two Canadian films invited to the Baja International Film Festival.
Its francophone star Sophie Desmarais says she's grateful for the attention the film is earning, admitting she expects her first leading role will open doors.
Desmarais plays the singular-minded Sarah, whose passion for running earns her an invitation to a prestigious running club in Montreal.
But without money to fund the move, she agrees to marry her friend, Antoine, played by Jean-Sebastien Courchesne, in a bid to get lucrative school grants and loans.
The Toronto International Film Festival wraps Sunday.
Desmarais says she needed to transform her body to convincingly play an athlete. She gained 10 pounds of muscle through pilates and running drills and then set about putting a unique stamp on Sarah's rigid stride.
"Everything is in her gaze and in her heart," she says of the 20-year-old's reserved personality, which extends to a ramrod-straight posture.
"She's very interior."
The 27-year-old Desmarais, who also appeared at TIFF on behalf of Sebastien Pilote's "Le Demantelement," says she relished the chance to flesh out a mysterious character.
Very little of Sarah's inner life is revealed through dialogue, leaving Desmarais to convey as much as she could through facial expressions and other physical movements.
"She's full of determination and inner force but at the same time she's anxious, she's shy and she's afraid to meet new friends, to be in a new place," she says.
"Sarah doesn't have this ability to adapt easily so I was really touched by this because she has a great passion for running, she's a good athlete but she doesn't have the charisma and the words to speak about this."
Desmarais says she already has plans to work on Robichaud's next film, "Country," expected to shoot next year.
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