Canadian director Pascal Plante simply can't wait for the world to see his Cannes-selected film "Nadia, Butterfly." He hasn't been able to screen it in person with most of his cast and crew, never mind the general public or international festival audiences.
Only a handful of people have actually seen the finished product, one of 56 films selected for the prestigious international festival in France that was set for May but had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival won't have a 2020 edition at all but revealed the lineup earlier this week anyway, giving the films a badge of honour.
The finishing touches were put on "Nadia, Butterfly" in late February and a mid-March viewing party for those who participated in the project had to be postponed.
"I'm dying to have a bit of warmth and get to talk with people after watching the film, to have a celebratory moment around the unveiling of the film," Plante said Thursday from Montreal. "That's what I'm looking forward to."
The Cannes selection committee evidently liked what they saw. "Nadia, Butterfly" is billed as the lone Canadian film to make the cut from 2,067 overall submissions.
The full festival experience of the screening, buzz, red carpet and hoopla may be missing this year, but the precious branding as an official 2020 Cannes selection is still hard to beat.
"That label goes a very long way," Plante said from Montreal. "That Cannes seal of approval is very concrete."
Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux announced the 56 selections on Wednesday from an empty movie theatre in Paris. If accepted elsewhere, films can still have premieres at festivals later this year — should they happen — like those in Toronto, Telluride, New York and San Sebastian.
"It's all positive, it's very humbling," Plante said. "I live in the same world as everybody. We live in crazy times. I cannot be disappointed in the slightest. These are extraordinary circumstances."
In her acting debut, swimmer Katerine Savard — who won Olympic relay bronze for Canada at the 2016 Rio Games — plays the title role of Nadia. Shot last year in Montreal and Tokyo, the film essentially creates an alternative 2020 Olympics and examines her last race and the days that follow.
"It's basically a film about the post-Olympic blues," said Plante, who also wrote the film. "The very tipping point of that transition from being an athlete to having to redefine herself and understanding what it means to leave it all behind.
"It puts friendships at stake and you have to say farewell to a whole world."
A former high-level swimmer himself, Plante wanted to create an authentic look at the world of high-performance sport and the challenging search for identity that many elite competitors face upon retirement.
"I saw some good retirements and I saw some terrible retirements," he said of his swimming days. "It's a hard step. You really have to redefine yourself. I just felt that I haven't seen that aspect that much in other people's films. So that kind of gave legitimacy for me to tackle those ideas."
Plante, who reached the Olympic Trials in 2008 but didn't qualify for the Beijing Games that year, needed to consult with Olympic athletes to get some first-hand knowledge for the project.
He reached out to Savard, a 27-year-old native of Pont-Rouge, Que., who read the screenplay and ended up auditioning for the lead role. With her swimming experience and comfort level on camera, she was a perfect fit.
"When we auditioned her, we saw she had charisma and that sensibility," producer Dominique Dussault said from Montreal. "She was our Nadia for the role."
Savard, who took a five-month break from competitive swimming in 2018, is back competing at an elite level and training for the Tokyo Games, now re-scheduled for 2021.
She approached her first acting assignment with the same vigour she uses in the pool.
"I guess it's a bit natural for me," Savard said from Quebec City. "I'm really close to my emotions. I guess it's easy for me to cry and to laugh and everything."
Elite 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 31-year-old Concordia University grad who directed "Fake Tattoos" in 2017.
"Nadia, Butterfly," distributed by Maison 4:3, is scheduled to be released in theatres this fall.
"I always try to just make the film that I would want to see," Plante said. "I know it sounds basic, but really at the end of the day that's the main drive."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.
With files from The Associated Press. Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.