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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.15.13] Canada drama

For years Denis Côté has been delivering awkward, troubling dramas. His snow peppered landscapes are apt metaphors for his films which often hide difficult themes just below the surface but with Vic + Flo Saw a Bear Côté has not only moved away from the snowy landscapes but also delivered his most accessible movie yet.

Pierrette Robitaille star as Vic, a fifty something ex-con recently released from prison. We never find out why she was in there, only that she was incarcerated long enough that she's not used to the fast paced city life. She retreats to the Quebec countryside to live with her Uncle who is paralyzed and incapable of taking care of himself but who is cared for by the neighbour's teenage son.

Upon arrival, Vic makes it quickly known that from now on, she'll be looking after her uncle, a move that doesn't sit well with the neighbour kid (likely because it means losing what little money he makes from looking after the old man) but he buggers off and leaves Vic alone to settle in and get used to her newfound freedom. She's soon joined by her lover Flo, a city girl who doesn't want to move out to the country but who also isn't ready to say goodbye to Vic. The women spend most of their time getting re-acquainted, acclimatizing to life on the outside and the drop in visits from Vic's parole officer Guillaume, a guy that at first comes across as an asshole before eventually being revealed as a nice guy who really wants Vic to succeed on the outside.

For the most part, Vic + Flo is the story of a woman's struggle to start her life anew and Vic isn't interested in making things easy for herself. She wants little to do with the outside world and would be happy enough to live out the rest of her days in the quiet countryside but she loves Flo and the younger woman isn't ready to settle down to country life. What begins as a quiet story of personal struggle, takes a turn for the strange with the arrival of Marina, a neighbour who is later revealed to be playing by her own agenda.

On the surface, Côté's new film is a slightly more upbeat drama about a woman in a difficult situation and though not exactly a new theme for Côté, his approach here is far brighter and lighter than in his previous films. There's never a feeling that life is going to be easy for either woman but there's a lightness and sense of optimism to the story, much of it from Guillaume who tries hard to lift Vic's spirits. Marc-André Grondin, sporting a new look sans hair, is quite good as the parole officer who, on the surface, seems like a bit of a hard ass but who later turns out to be Vic's loudest champion, while both Robitaille and Romane Bohringer, as Vic and Flo respectively, deliver excellent performances as two women who have lived through their own share of difficult times.

The highlight here is easily Marie Brassard who makes an appearance early on in the movie only to disappear for an extended period before re-emerging as someone Flo does not want to see. Her jolly good humour hides a nefarious plan that leads to the movie's brilliant final act which, though quite depressing on the surface, is actually the most uplifting part of Vic + Flo Saw A Bear.

Though it is easily Côté's most commercially accessible movie, Vic + Flo Saw A Bear is by no means a walk in the park, still carrying the director's penchant for violence; a hugely enjoyable drama with a dark streak.

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