Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (October 5th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR screens Sunday October 5th at 6:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Matt Finley

Why does French-Canadian director Denis Côté use an addition symbol instead of a simply stated "and" in the title of his new romantic thriller VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR? It was the first of many tantalizing questions I found myself contemplating as this enthralling, darkly comic movie arrived at its haunting end. Like Côté's previous narrative feature, 2010's CURLING (which he followed with the 2012 documentary BESTIAIRE), VIC + FLO is a surprising and visually sparse slow-boiling pot that refuses to be saddled by the genre conventions of a traditional pot-boiler.

At once funnier and a hair less obtuse than the wholly uncompromising CURLING, VIC + FLO follows recently released ex-convict Victoria (Pierrette Robitaille) as she attempts to re-enter society and rekindle a relationship with her former lover and one-time fellow inmate, Florence (Romane Bohringer). Making their way to the desolate woods and insular, rural villages of outer Quebec, the women move in with Vic's invalid uncle, tenuously constructing a domestic routine amid the glares of suspicious locals and repeated visits from Vic's disarmingly supportive parole officer, Guillame (Marc-André Grondin).

That "+" in the title, meanwhile, seems to directly reference the youthful implication of coupling imbued by the [name] + [name] formula so frequently observed etched in tree bark or inked in curling cursive on a cardboard notebook back. The format “Vic + Flo” suggests that the film is not primarily concerned with its two leads as individuals or the unique circumstances that led them to each other, but as the intertwined sum of those parts (and the consequences of intertwining).

More importantly, the type of coupling the youthful “+” denotes is co-dependent, idealized and simple - in short, everything the tired, hard-eyed Vic, for whom reclaimed freedom is as much an emotional wilderness as the Canadian woods are a literal one, is seeking from her relationship with Flo, a fun-loving free spirit at least 15 years her junior who may have other, more selfish reasons for retreating into the brush.

Côté's deployment of this childlike "+" is also an act of tonal irony, as the sensual serenity of the perfect, conifer-carved union Vic imagines for herself and Flo is slowly dismantled and shaken apart by dark reverberations echoing out of the ladies' criminal pasts.

As tension mounts and both women wander ever closer to certain peril, Côté never pulls focus from Vic and Flo's present-tense struggles, passing up any number of opportunities for exposition or flashback to instead push deeper into Flo's fear of commitment and routine and Vic's mounting jealousy and desperation for banal domesticity. In keeping their past a mystery, Côté ensures that their ultimate future, a mix of senseless horror and surprising grace, feels at once shocking and utterly inevitable.

Aside from his genuine sense of playfulness when it comes to deploying genre tropes, one thing that initially drew to me to Côté's work is his penchant for creating an unexpected and palpable sense of dread, which periodically intrudes upon the minor joys and everyday melancholy of his characters’ lives. This quality of both CURLING and VIC + FLO serves as a potent reminder: for all the emotional energy we expend on the unwise decisions, minor failures and lapses in character from which we walk away unconquered, somewhere up the road is a thing that will take each of us down forever. It's forming right now, gathering stolen pieces of the unwise decisions, minor failures and lapses in character we eventually brushed away or overcame.

It is the metastasizing grey of a storm in the distant sky, unnoticed because of a new insecurity we've only just discovered.

Unseen because Vic is looking at Flo, terrified she'll leave.

Ignored because Flo is staring at the muscular stranger, thinking he'd make for a good time.
Why does French-Candian director Denis Côté suggest that a bear is seen in his new comic noir VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR? And is it anything to do with the clouds rolling in overhead? (3 1/2 out 4 Stars)

1 comment:

  1. I'm american (note the lower-case "a"...). I found Vic & Flo a masterful creation. Its setting, completely conjured by the direction, fantastic cinematography, evokes the isolation and eventual dread that seeps in like an insidious storm.

    Slow-paced, allowing all levels of circumstance, daily life, and characters' relationship and private musings, was excellent. Mystery of many kinds and level were not necessary, the questions not answered created an inherent engagement; not addressing them was in a way, brave, and demanded that the story of the characters' present, and future be the focus.

    The foreboding mood throughout created a kind of dread and suspense that was felt at a nearly physical level. The encounters with the manipulative, but decidedly seekers of revenge, built from first encounter as oddly, but possibly mundane


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