Vic + Flo Saw a Bear is a slice of dark poetry

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Starring Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer. In French with English subtitles. Playing Friday, January 18, Wednesday and Thursday, January 22-23, and Sunday, January 26, at Cinematheque

No bears are harmed in the making of this perversely entertaining drama from Quebec, but the people don’t come out that well.

The principals of Vic + Flo Saw a Bear are the absurdly over-named Victoria Champagne (Pierrette Robitaille)—a middle-aged ex-con—and her slightly younger, even less responsible sometime lover, Florence Richemont (France’s Romane Bohringer). With few choices available, Vic washes up on the remotely wooded doorstep of a paralyzed, elderly uncle (Georges Molnar). She seems an unlikely caregiver in the eyes of her strenuously macho parole officer (Marc-André Grondin, unrecognizable from his lead role in C.R.A.Z.Y.)—even less so when Flo shows up, also after leaving prison for undescribed transgressions.

Their parole meetings consist of the rough-looking women finding ways to challenge and even humiliate Vic’s youthfully bearded authority figure. Their united front doesn’t survive his departure, however, and even in this deeply rural respite, Flo manages to get in trouble. Meanwhile, Vic is receiving frequent, apparently accidental, attention from a super-friendly local (cast standout Marie Brassard). How come the smiling, bushy-haired woman keeps showing up in unexpected places, sometimes in the company of a tall, silent black man who plays a strange version of blues guitar?

This mysterious film, which meanders perhaps too confidently towards an ending that manages to feel both arbitrary and overreaching, is the latest slice of dark northern poetry from former critic Denis Côté. Along with numerous documentaries, he made 2010’s curious Curling, also about hard-bitten people stranded in wintry Quebec settings. Here again, a sense of place, carrying its own genetic language, imbues Côté’s cryptic characters with secrets even they don’t quite understand. And somehow, he makes us want to figure them out.

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