“…Novità di linguaggio si sono trovate in Vic+Flo ont vu un ours di Denis Côté: il canadese ha costruito un mondo fantastico in una storia di pesante realismo…” (L’Arena)
“The lesbian tough gals who used to be behind bars in 1970s exploitation movies are on the outside in tranquil Canadian forest land, suspended in a cinematic landscape someplace between Wes Anderson and Eric Rohmer in Vic + Flo Saw a Bear.
Montreal critic-turned-filmmaker Denis Cote’s bizarre anti-melodrama of doomed love and gruesome revenge comes on strong with sharp visuals and eccentric humor. But its mannerisms become too studied and its pace stultifying, which makes the French-language film rarely as much fun as its title. However, anything this out-there is bound to find at least a small coterie of champions.
Cote made one of the more arresting movies to hit the festival circuit last year with Bestiaire, a unique documentary that offered a haunting, near-wordless contemplation of the relationship between man and beast from both perspectives. This narrative feature has a comparable elegance but a more mischievous spirit, shifting from droll detachment through more sober interludes to sudden jolts of extreme violence, and ultimately, to a whisper of bittersweet afterlife whimsy. It’s a movie that informs us — a little smugly — that it marches to its own drummer.
The drum is heard literally in composer Melissa Lavergne’s tribal war signals that punctuate the action with growing intensity, forewarning of the horror that’s coming. In essence, the film is a twisted outlaw genre piece about female ex-cons released back into society, who remain suspicious if not downright defiant of its codes.
At 61, Victoria (Pierrette Robitaille) is let out early from a life sentence for an unknown crime. A hardened woman with a blunt manner and a derisive sense of humor, she retreats to a secluded former sugar shack in the woods, owned by her uncle, Emile Champagne (Georges Molnar). A surreal frontier figure with his long white mane and beard, he has been reduced, presumably by a stroke, to a mute witness confined to a wheelchair. While it’s unclear whether Vic ever had any real affection for the old coot, she curtly dismisses Charlot (Pier-Luc Funk), the clueless teen taking care of Emile, thus making enemies of the boy and his father (Olivier Aubin).
Cote’s elliptical approach eliminates most of the standard connective thread and pretty much all of the exposition, so characters tend to appear rather than be introduced, and their backstory remains guesswork.
Three key figures arrive on the scene. The first is Victoria’s parole officer Guillaume (Marc-Andre Grondin), who initially seems strictly by-the-book but is steadily revealed to be sympathetic and invested in her readjustment. Next comes Florence (Romane Bohringer), Vic’s younger former cellmate and lover, who has other reasons besides reconnecting to want to shack up in the out-of-the-way spot. Finally, a stranger introducing herself as Marina St.-Jean (Marie Brassard) shows up offering gardening tips and flirting with Vic before exposing herself as a ghost from the past.
Much of the ambling midsection centers on Vic’s mounting anxiety that restless Flo will leave her. More of a cell-block lesbian than a dedicated full-timer, Flo provides plenty of cause for worry, hooking up with a hunky black barfly (Ted Pluviose), cruising a hot young racer at the go-kart track (Dany Boudereault) and even coming on to handsome gay Guillaume. (For a movie about a lesbian couple, there’s quite an assortment of man candy here.) But Vic assures her that they will end up together, which proves prophetic, though not in the way she anticipated.
The nature of the violence is grotesque and unexpected and, without giving too much away, carried out on the orders of one of the most amusing butch bitches since the heyday of Mercedes McCambridge. But while Cote lavishes much attention on the stylistic quirks and notes of oddball humor, he neglects to authenticate the emotional stakes for Vic and Flo. They remain somewhat limited as characters, despite solid work from Bohringer and especially Robitaille.
It’s all very well to toy with genre elements by making incongruous aesthetic and tonal choices and adding an offbeat sensibility. But the director still needs to make us care about his characters. (Not to mention think about basic requirements, like suspense.) Arguably the most memorable figure here is Guillaume, played by the appealing Grondin with a wonderful combination of officiousness melting into warmth and compassion.” (David Rooney, HollywoodReporter.com)
“Those of us who saw Denis Côté’s latest brilliant documentary Bestiaire (which had its premiere at Berlinale 2012) definitely should see the Canadian director’s newest feature film, Vic and Flo Saw a Bear. If you weren’t one of the lucky ones and did not have opportunity to watch the doc it would be good to, at least, imagine it. From what I’ve heard, the people who saw Vic and Flo… without prior knowledge of Bestiaire had a more than slightly different experience during the screening — more or less, they were bored. Yet, they could have been blown away if they only knew that Côté is looking at his two main heroines exactly the same way he captures the animals in Bestiaire. He puts his camera in one place and lets the animals wander back and forth. The images that found his camera during the shooting time (I wouldn’t say it was the other way round) are like modern, minimalistic, mesmerizing paintings. The frames are filled with pale blue walls, wooden and barbed-wired fences and doorways covered with rust. In Bestiaire, Côté captures the fragments of animal bodies, glimpses of their sparkling eyes, and the monotony of zoo life. He hides irony and tenderness between the unspoken lines and finds a dazzling way to portrait a society.
Within Vic and Flo…’s plot, Côté is takes a long look at two women and a man living in a wooden cottage with pale blue walls and roof covered with rust. It is important to imagine Bestiaire’s visual qualities in order to notice that Côté most likely has some kind of comparison between two films on his mind. Vic and Flo… seems to be a really peculiar, but brilliant sequel to Bestiaire. Last year we were watching animals in the zoo; this year, we glance at women in prison for a short while and then we follow one of them far into the woods. At 61-years-of-age, Victoria (Pierrette Robitaille) doesn’t want to come back to society and pretend that she can live a normal life. Her silent, old uncle’s cottage in the forest is more or less a safe haven for her. Her lonely life becomes even better when her lover Florence (Romane Bohringer) arrives. They seem to be totally isolated, but everything goes easily for them, even if Vic’s probation officer Guillaume (Marc-Andre Grondin) does turn up way too often. For quite some time, nothing really happens; but nothing changes the fact that this subtle narrative is soaked through with bizarre humor… VOTO: 9/10 (Anna Bielak, smellslikescreenspirit.com)
“Cote, a former film critic, has abandoned the more experimental vein of his earlier fiction work for more coherent stories — in terms of narrative, if not necessarily tone — and this, combined with a growing level of technical mastery, has clearly paid off; “Vic + Flo” is his most accomplished work yet. Though the film certainly won’t be to every taste, one finally senses there’s someone at the helm who has not only a vision but also the know-how and means to put that particular vision onscreen.
The film opens with the arrival of 61-year-old Victoria, or Vic (Pierrette Robitaille), near the former sugar shack of her uncle Emile (legit vet Georges Molnar), whose flowing white beard and hair would make him perfect for biblical roles if he weren’t a half-paralyzed mute. After quickly dismissing his lanky teenage caretaker (Pier-Luc Funk), a boy who seems allergic to wearing shirts, Vic installs herself in the cabin.
The arrival of two apparently tough people reveal something about the woman’s past: Vic’s young-looking parole officer, Guillaume (Marc-Andre Grondin), regularly comes in to check on her, and her lover and fellow ex-convict, the French Florence or Flo (Romane Bohringer), also has decided to make this shack in the middle of nowhere home. The two soon have the place to themselves after Emile moves to a more adequate environment.
Things seem idyllic enough initially, even though Cote has already punctuated the narrative with not only an intimidatingly percussive score, but also short scenes that hint at trouble on the horizon. Flo is constantly looking for action elsewhere — and with men, even chatting up Guillaume, though she knows he bats for the other team. A funny yet clearly tough-as-nails woman (Marie Brassard) who casually befriends Vic also seems more than a little suspicious, and the threat of violence hangs thick in the air for these two ex-cons.
Though the pic never becomes a full-blown character piece, local star Robitaille (“Nuit de Noces”) imbues Vic with enough soul to make auds want to root for her, and French thesp Bohringer (“Total Eclipse”), who’s some 20 years younger, plays the possible duplicity of Flo just right. Grondin (“C.R.A.Z.Y.) aces his supporting turn as the officer who pretends to be tougher than he really is, down to the shaved head and moustache that are supposed to make him look more butch. A scene with Bohringer and Grondin alone while they eat fries outdoors is especially well played.
The second half continues its scenes of everyday life, including a dryly comic interlude in which the two women and Guillaume visit a railway museum together. But slowly, Cote allows violence to re-enter the women’s lives. As in “Curling,” there are echoes of the Coen brothers in the juxtaposition of eccentric humor and shocking cruelty, though the overall effect feels more coherent here.
D.p. Ian Lagarde’s camerawork is beautifully composed, the editing sharp and sound design crisp. Title, untranslated on the print caught, means “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear.” (Boyd van Hoeij, Variety)