Former film critic Denis Côté has become one of the most acclaimed new directors in world cinema, in no small part thanks to the constant culture of risk he has embraced in his filmmaking - while all his films, both documentaries and fictions, can conceivably be recognised as his, they're all generally quite idiosyncratic. None more so, though, than this crime film turned simultaneously upside down and inside out, about two ex-cons and their enchanted Quebecois forest idyll after their release from prison. Punctuated by much tongue-in-cheek, deadpan humour, Vic & Flo ont vu un ours is very much its own film, so to speak, working Mr. Côté's interest in genre and in outsiders into an elastic yet curiously affecting plot.

     The titular characters Vic (for Victoria; Canadian comedian Pierrette Robitaille) and Flo (Florence; Romane Bohringer) are two women struggling to build their own world after leaving jail, where they served time for crimes that are never explained. Their second chance at life, taking place at the rural house of Vic's elderly disabled uncle, is encouraged by their parole officer (a sympathetic performance from Marc-André Grondin), but is thrown into disarray by a disquieting sense of fate encroaching upon their little Quebecois neck of the woods where very little seems to happen. There is, in fact, something "out of the past" about to happen (involving literally someone out of that past), but that noir-ish tale of ex-cons struggling to go legit is gleefully subverted by Mr. Côté. Not only because of the sexual angle (a lesbian couple where Flo is effectively a bisexual afraid to commit to anyone, regardless of sex) but also because the story is propelled into an ominous possible Canadian Gothic with fairy tale and fable elements (the bear of the title is more of a metaphor, though appropriate for the shock ending that seems tailor-made to throw viewers out of the screening asking what on Earth have they just seen). Also, Mr. Côté smartly bends the conventions of crime film into a sort of metafictional construct about love and fate, while constantly throwing wrenches into the machine to keep things fresh and unusual (though, it should be said, never subverting for subversion's sake; there is a method to the apparent madness).

     None of this would be half as enjoyable if it weren't for the well-chosen cast and the effortless way in which the three leads bounce off each other in a tug-of-war between passive aggression and genuine fondness - a tug-of-war Mr. Côté works into the film's form through the contrast between the location work and the indoor scenes, showing Vic et Flo wanting to break free yet still hemmed in by all that surrounds them. All this to say this is probably the director's most accessible film, likely to attract viewers put off by some of his previous films' more austere, arid devices - though those same viewers might still come out scratching their heads as much as before. Which is no bad thing.

Cast: Pierrette Robitaille, Romane Bohringer, Marc-André Grondin
Director and writer: Denis Côté
Cinematography: Ian Lagarde (colour)
Music: Mélissa Lavergne
Art director: Colombe Raby
Costumes: Patricia McNeil
Editor: Nicolas Roy
Producers: Stéphanie Morissette, Sylvain Corbeil (Metafilms and La Maison de Prod in association with Super Écran)
Canada, 2013, 95 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2013 official competition advance press screening, Cinemaxx am Potsdamer Platz 9 (Berlin), February 9th 2013


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