Director of Vic + Flo Brings Stark Pessimism from the Backwoods of Quebec

This movie is smarter than the average bear.
This movie is smarter than the average bear.

Interesting pick by the RPL Film Theatre to unleash digital conversion in unsuspecting moviegoers. Quebecois film Vic + Flo Saw a Bear is not what you would call a feel good Christmas movie or a demonstration of technical prowess. This is a character drama about people trapped in harmful relationships, unsympathetic environments and even their own bodies.

Reminiscent of Michael Haneke cruelest thrillers, Vic + Flo revolves around an ex-con (Pierrette Robitaille) and her much younger lover (Romane Bohringer, Savage Nights), who find shelter in a cottage in the boondocks of Quebec. Their already unstable relationship –Flo craves civilization, but Vic is legally bound to the cabin- is further tested by a hostile population and a violent former acquaintance of Flo’s, out for blood for no discernible reason.

Director Denis Côté (Bestiaire, Curling) has flirted with notoriety in the past, but Vic + Flo has brought in the accolades, including the Silver Bear –appropriately enough- at the Berlin International Film Festival. His film critic background comes across his answers. Just don’t ask him where the ursine of the title is.

– The opening credits of Vic + Flo are stark, a la Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void). Was your intention to use them as foreshadowing?

Absolutely. I think Vic + Flo is a reaction to the slowness of Curling. It’s still slow but we find ways to let you know ‘hey, something’s coming, don’t worry!’ Music is used the same way throughout the film. My main goal is to tell an intimate story about these two women but form -film language, play with genres, audience expectations- is a major concern. 

– Romane Bohringer is an interesting actress who doesn’t work as often. Did you have to convince her to join your film?

– Romane told me she discovered a theater group fifteen years ago and stayed with them. She’s a bohemian and doesn’t calculate her next move. She disappeared from cinema but would do some films if the phone rings. Romane is no French Lolita: She could fit in a Quebec backwoods portrait. She can be rough and charming at the same time.

– In the movie, you allow the audience to put together the characters’ backstory. Do you believe today’s cinema makes it too easy to the public?

– The audience is more intelligent than we think, but is also looking for comfort. I don’t think the film is confusing for one second. We know they went to jail for major crimes. Vic obviously killed someone and got a life sentence; Flo reveals they were in a band in the past, something wrong happened and she did time for everybody. I don’t feel I’m hiding that much information, but I like the viewer to be active and create its own backstory, filling plot holes and all.

– Violence in your film is sudden and in bursts, following long simmering tension. When did you realize this is a more effective approach?

– I’m not even sure I was interested in violence. It seems I am able to create a sense of menace in all my films but I don’t think too much about it. It’s just there, in my DNA. To be honest, I wanted to find a happy end for these women. I wanted them to stop fighting about their place in the world. I thought, ‘okay, both will go through a difficult process but they’ll be happy together afterwards’. Then it becomes a vengeance film, because fatality is stronger than anything. Violence is used to achieve romanticism. I know it’s twisted but it was my goal.

– The Jackie character is almost otherworldly as lingering threat. Was there at some point a different iteration of the same role?

– In an old version of the script Jackie was a guy, and so were Vic and Flo. We don’t have a long history of real bad guys in our cinema, people who get away with murder. She’s kind of unreal, like out of a comic book. The events she’s orchestrates at the end of the film flirt with the grotesque. I like it. She is fatality: She’s the one who was not supposed to be in this love story. She just is and we can’t do anything against it.

– Was there any decision you made in pre-production you came to regret during production?

– I had imagined a longer ending that was meant to be more ‘beautiful’ and romantic. We actually shot it but I could smell we wouldn’t use it. It took some efforts and budget and, of course, went in the garbage. I hate working for nothing and wasting money. I always regret spending too much money on set. I made a lot of DIY shorts so it’s in me. It kills me to have thirty people around me every day.

– How the story determined the cinematography of Vic + Flo Saw a Bear?

– I don’t want to create beautiful images and postcards. I prefer strong framing. For Vic + Flo, I knew the story was ‘dry’, characters were tough, and they say what they mean in few words. I couldn’t go with a warm cinematography. Vic + Flo don’t live in a world of compassion.

– How often people ask you where was the bear?

– I’m always annoyed by that comment or question. The title is the clearest image I could find. Why do people still ask me ‘where’s the bear’? Are we that literal?

– Michael Haneke or the Coen Brothers?

– I’d have to say Michael Haneke. I’m really intimidated by good storytellers. I know it’s my weak point. I don’t understand why some people see the Coens’ influence in my work. The snow of Fargo in Curling? The weirdo characters? Haneke is an evil master. He knows how to pull every string and play with the audience expectations, as well as deconstructing the mechanisms of storytelling. I’ve read my name alongside Haneke’s in the past few years and I’m sincerely troubled. I will never have an eight of his talent.

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear is now playing at the RPL.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.