For the first half, French-Canadian director Denis Cote’s “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear” plays like a naturalistic drama about an older lesbian couple starting a new life on a farm in rural Quebec. I expected certain things to come to pass — suspicion from the locals, touching love scenes, and an overall affirmation of the enduring power of love.
Yeah. Yeah, no.
“Vic + Flo,” which played at this spring’s WUD Reel Love Film Festival and is out on DVD from KimStim, takes one of the sharpest third-act turns I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time. I hate to reveal it, except to say that film noir is like a weed in Vic’s garden, which quickly grows and spreads to choke the life out of the rest of the film. It’s pretty fascinating, if horrifying, to watch.
Vic (Pierette Robitaille) is around 60, plain-looking and plain-speaking, and Flo (Romane Bohringer, bearing a strong resemblance to Charlotte Gainsbourg) is her younger partner, probably in her 40s. They met in prison for unspecified crimes, and now both on parole, they’re hoping to start a new life away from all that.
The first hour or so of the film plays like a documentary — Vic is at peace in this bucolic world, the younger Flo more restless, more apt to make friends with the people in town. There are tiny cracks in their relationship — Vic seems unusually jealous of Flo, perpetually worried that she’ll leave her, threatening to kill herself if she does. And then there is the matter of their unspoken past, their unspoken crimes.
And that comes back to haunt them in a big way — the past is the real “bear” of the film. Cote opts for long takes and close-ups of these ordinary, contemplative faces, which has a lulling effect on the viewer. A deceptive one, as it turns out. The last couple of scenes in the film border on the surreal, but again Cote sticks with those techniques to make one strange and memorable film.
There’s only one featurette on the DVD, a collection of raw on-the-set footage called “The Bear,” which doesn’t explain anything about the film. Somehow I didn’t think it would.