Near an old sugar shack nestled the Canadian woods, Victoria and Florence sit in a blue, plastic pool, the kind kids splash around in during the summer months. The seductive Flo gulps from a bottle of red wine, while the older Vic pushes for support and loyalty. "You're my Victoria," Flo says, trying to subdue her partner.
The title characters of Vic + Flow Saw a Bear labor through their tumultuous relationship, ridden by infidelities and a complicated history. Although both women are queer, the progression of these two ladies, within their relationship and society, remains the focus and heart of the film.
"I have an attraction for characters that live at the edge of the world; who have problems connecting or reconnecting with a society or a community. They simply touch me," said director Denis Cote, who is also responsible for the films Curling and Les etats Nordiques (Drifting States). For his latest feature film, Cote focuses on the stories of two women struggling to assimilate back into society after building their relationship within a jailhouse.
"Naturally, when these women are released and back into society, they either reconnect with men or they stay among women, out of habit," Cote explained. "Again, it doesn't have much to do with being gay or not. I had no time to waste on the question. I was busy telling a story about two persons who struggle with society and who happen to have feelings for one another."
In an attempt to escape the past, the two move into a sparse home, owned by Vic's uncle. The quiet spot lies next to vast, empty woods, and a green golf cart, stolen from a neighbor, serves as their only form of transportation. Yet, facing the past proves inevitable, as harsh reminders meet them at every turn. Guillaume, the gay parole office played by Marc-Andre Grondin (pictured above), turns up from time-to-time in tight button-downs and rather flattering khakis.
"He's young and green, he genuinely cares for their coming back in society. He's cocky in the beginning, then he gets friendlier," Cote said. "He doesn't influence the story that much. He's just 'the good guy' we learn to like; he's what society is proposing to these two women and he's no enemy."
Cote's choices regarding cinematography heighten the film's intensity. In many scenes, the subject or object settles at the center of the frame. The dramatic use of color removes the story from true reality. The blue water of aquarium, the yellow accents of the go-kart track, the brown dirt nestled in Flo's brunette locks--each and every color comes on strong.
"I've been using a quite tough and strong color-correction since my very first films. I like to desaturate and boost the contrast," said Cote. "I think we went too far with Vic + Flo but at the same time, what I like about it, is that you know as a viewer that we are a little bit outside realism."
While the characters exist outside the scope of normality, sympathetic elements ground the film. Vic and Flo face familiar dilemmas - the pervasiveness of the past, the turmoils of love, the fear and desire to cheat. The two even struggle to care for a sick relative and deal with shitty neighbors.
"I think the story and the film are pretty frontal. I'm no fan of metaphors or symbolic. I used to be a bit cryptic in my stories and one could think it was packed with symbols. But here, no," said Cote. In time, the characters meet their ultimate demise through Jackie, the curly-haired, seemingly gentle woman from Flo's past. Her presence does not serve as an external symbol of the rifts within Vic and Flo's relationship. Rather, Jackie is her own person, and she appears for only one reason. "Something went wrong. Jackie must take her revenge. It's brutally simple."
The movie's essence and intrigue does not rely on the final scene, no matter how gripping it may be. It's about watching the Vic and Flo together - watching the two work through each moment of the relationship.
"It's two persons in love. End of the story."
Vic + Flow Saw a Bear opens in New York City at Anthology Film Archives Feb. 7 through 13.
Watch the trailer below:
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear - Official Trailer from KimStim on Vimeo.