During a meeting between the Sam film crew and the Montreal media, director Yan England said that in his eyes, the first objective, when going to the cinema, is to be surprised, to experience things that we do not expect. He scrupulously applied this philosophy to his film and we can say that it is successful.
A psychological thriller set in the context of high-level swimming, Sam is as exciting as an Olympic final. The movie also has a boxing match feel to it. A fight where the spectator receives repeated blows. And what blows!
Outbreak! The first thing happens to us when we least expect it. We barely have time to catch our breath that … bang! We find ourselves once again stunned, as if lightning had struck us. And it has just begun!
The filmmaker is correct in saying that his second feature film is not a swimming movie.
Beyond the sport that it serves here, without a play on words, as a springboard, the feature film is a mirror work that exposes the consequences of our actions and raises questions about it.
Through the hero and some supporting characters, the viewer will wonder if he would have taken the same path.
Incarnated by Antoine Olivier Pilon, still solid, Sam is an ambitious high-level swimmer who dreams of an Olympic podium. Guided by his older sister Judith (Mylène Mackay), he trains hard and… blind. There is nothing in Sam’s life more than competition. There is no plan B.
However, an uncontrollable event disrupts his personal life and creates a ripple effect on that of his entourage members and some strangers. Sam’s path will certainly cross those of Océanne (Milya Corbeil-Gauvreau) and Marc (Stéphane Rousseau) who will take him to new horizons.
Focused on 95 minutes, the story is rhythmic, with no downtime. It is woven from many elements, twists, and coincidences that obviously come at the right time. So some may find it hard to believe in this unlikely alignment of the planets.
For our part, the impression is that Yan England did not want to take his audience to the same terrain as that of his film 1:54. It instilled in Sam a little side of totally assumed feeling good.
The project didn’t have a big budget and it shows in some places. But the filmmaker knew how to compensate by intervening where he could.
His direction of actors is very correct, in particular with Stéphane Rousseau called to go through all emotions (brittle, moved, angry). The sound recording highlights the sequences in the pool. The opening credits are inventive with their unusual formats. Some shots, taken with a handheld camera, highlight the ambient tension.
Finally, Montreal is filmed differently. We guess the city, we perceive it, we touch it without even being frontal. A unique shot is, among other things, shot from the roof of the Cégep Édouard-Montpetit.
On the other hand, the final, a bit hasty, leaves an unfinished story aside, that of Judith, directly involved in Sam’s journey, her role was too important to abandon on the way.
Due to the same basic framework, high-level swimming, some will make comparisons between this movie and Pascal Plante’s Nadia, Butterfly. However, these stories have very different narrative and formal approaches. If there is one place they come together, it is in their exploration of the psychological consequences of total personal investment.
Furthermore, both works have avoided the insipid melodrama of a winning trip to the top step of the podium. And it is very good.