I suppose I like to think about film as much as the next critic. This doesn’t mean that I require a heavy, meaty subject matter every time I sit before the silver screen or my television set; rather it just goes to say that if a film comes with striking performances and a sterling moral that I’m up for the challenge. When the story requires too much commitment, I do tend to dial back my brain a bit and try to get lost in the narrative (perhaps more than most); and that’s because I’d rather learn my lessons organically than have them forced down my throat.
That said, I still have little to no idea of VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR was really all about.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Vic + Flo Saw A Bear is a mysterious tale of Victoria and Florence – two lesbian ex-cons trying to make a new life for themselves in the backwoods of Quebec. Seeking peace and quiet, the couple slowly begins to feel under siege as Vic’s probation officer keeps popping up unexpectedly and a strange woman in the neighborhood turns out to be a sinister force from Flo’s past.”
There are two great characters at the core of VIC + FLO, and, yes, those would be the two cited in the film’s title. As the packaging explains, these are ‘hard’ ladies – both bear some criminal conviction though there’s never any solid clarification as to what they did, nor is there any explanation for why one with a life sentence was released into society (that may be just a cultural differences between the U.S. penal system versus the Canadian). And what comes across in these 95 minutes is that both are having an excruciatingly difficult time coming to grips with who they are, what they are, and where they are.
For example, Victoria (played by Pierrette Robitaille) – our former ‘lifer’ – is released and immediately goes to stay with an ailing uncle. Having suffered a stroke, the man is apparently a former shell of himself; reduced to a wheelchair, he whiles his days in complete silence staring into space. While there’s no indication that these two relatives truly knew one another previously, I felt the story suggested at one point that Vic wasn’t who she said she was, even though her supposed brother appears to confirm the heredity. Still, the woman never truly cares for her uncle even after displacing the young teen (a neighbor) who had been previously spending his days with the man. Instead, she leaves him in his chair in the living; she leaves him in his chair on the porch; or she leaves him wherever she can until eventually the state does take him away from her. Then, she appears to come into her element.
In contrast, Flo (the lovely Romane Bohringer) appears to know who she is, and her struggles are largely spent on coming to grips with what she wants. She says she loves Vic and would never leave her, but – at nearly every opportunity within the 95 minutes – she’s trying to either get away to spend time with others (males she ‘hooks up’ with for sex) or trying to enhance what little time they do spend together with completely mindless activity (i.e. sitting on the couch, soaking in a children’s pool, etc.). There’s a current of unhappiness that courses through her veins, a tide which manifests itself in startling ways once the audience learns that another character in the film is actually stalking her with murderous intent.
Writer/director Denis Cote layers on the silence of potentially meaningless scenes far too often. At 95 minutes, VIC + FLO didn’t exactly flow and could’ve easily lost 20 minutes where literally little happens and even less is spoken. I get that perhaps he wanted to underscore thematically that life is time spent between emotions, but I have to believe there was a better way to do it than what he delivers here. Because nothing quite happens organically, everything has a manufactured feel about it … even the bloody, torturous fate waiting for these two interesting ladies in the last reel. I wanted to care about them so that their hardship actually meant something to me; but, sadly, I didn’t, and that hurts the picture.
Ambiguous but interesting, it all feels like the kind of film that wants to mean something greater than the sum of its parts, but without the handy-dandy decoder ring I’m not sure it’ll mean much more than what you want to make of it.
VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR (2013) is produced by La Maison de Prod, Metafilms, and Super Ecran. DVD distribution is being handled by Oscilloscope Laboratories. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a French-spoken-language release with English subtitles; there is no English-dubbed track. As for the technical specifications? This is one smartly shot film with some interesting cinematography; the sound work is fine not nothing all that exceptional. Lastly, the disc comes with a behind-the-scenes documentary which I feel some folks might watch hoping to find what the point of this all was.
RECOMMENDED primarily because it’s just so weird, VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR doesn’t so much have a story as it has a series of events that come one after the other, bookended by credits to suggest they’re as conventional a film story as you could want but won’t find. Things happened. Then there’s a death. Then there’s some torture. Or is it? Then there’s the end credits. In between, the audience spend time getting to know two interesting ladies; but in the final estimation I’m not sure what all of it means, much less if it really happened.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Oscilloscope Laboratories provided me with a DVD copy of VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.