This is a not-unhappy film about the end of the road. When we meet Nadia, she has just retired from competitive swimming at the Olympics 2020. Of course, the Olympics 2020 happened in Tokyo in July 2021 , and there was no Nadia in the Olympics 2020 or 21. But the film looks and feels so real it is a miracle we don’t mistake this work of fiction for a documentary.
When we met Nadia (played by Canadian champion swimmer Katerine Savard) she has just announced her retirement from the game at the 2020 Olympics. It is a heartbreaking moment for any sports person, especially one who has conquered innumerable peaks in her chosen field of activity at a very young age and now stares at a void. Nadia, as played by the disquietingly natural Savard, avoids the void.
The film is disappointing for its short-term vision. We look at Nadia in the hours that go by after the retirement announcement. Those anxious sweaty hours are vividly visualised in the narration, almost as if the director Pascal Plante wanted to not think about the abyss that lies ahead in Nadia’s career.
If we look at Nadia’s movements after the retirement announcement, it just seems like a crowd of unrelated events. There is one after party where everyone is making out with everyone. It will make you wonder if athletes at the Olympics turn hedonistic after pack-up. But the film gives us no space to be judgemental about Nadia's behaviour as she moves from an orgiastic party to a reflective conversation with two of her teammates over drinks.
What finally put me off this remarkable but highly dissatisfying film was its lack of emotion and ambition. It could have said so much about Nadia’s life after the game but chooses to stick closely to her hours after the announcement, afraid to go any further into the journey with the now-exiled global athlete.
The one breakdown sequence that Nadia has in the seclusion of her clothes-change tent as her friends console her from the outside, shook me up. Giving up your work, your life, your dreams, and that too at 23, isn’t easy. Nadia, Butterfly doesn’t seem to care beyond the immediate. The swimming sequences are far more interesting than the free-floating ones.
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