Written and Directed by Denis Côté
Produced by Sylvain Corbeil
Released by KimStim
French with English subtitles
Canada. 95 min. Not rated
With Pierrette Robitaille, Romane Bohringer, Marc-André Grondin,  Marie Brassard, and Georges Molnar

The reimagined feminist fairy tale is widespread in Hollywood, evident this past month by the success of Maleficent. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear takes a very different approach. Set in the backwoods of contemporary Quebec, the film hints at a dark fantasy world underneath the odd realism. Increasingly, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear aligns further with the fairy tale narrative, one that ends up being much more Grimm than Disney.

Vic (Pierrette Robitaille) is a 61-year-old woman who has just gotten out of prison. Making her way into the backwoods, she takes up residence with her uncle in his former sugar shack. Uncle Émile (Georges Molnar) is quite old, catatonic, and unable to care for himself. Displacing the neighbors who have cared for her uncle, Vic takes over. Her probation officer, Guillaume (Marc-André Grondin), visits her frequently, and takes a keen interest in her time after prison. Her original crime, however, is never clearly revealed. (She was sentenced to life imprisonment.)

Vic’s lover Flo (Romane Bohringer), another convict, eventually comes to stay. While Vic embraces the quiet, isolated life in the forest, Flo has a hard time adjusting. Younger than Vic, Flo grows restless, wandering into town to the bar and sleeping with a man she picks up there. Highlighting their new life together is the eccentric cast of characters they meet and sarcastically confront. Marina (Marie Brassard) befriends Vic and her strange intensity sets off a chain of events that leads to a shocking and brutal ending.

It takes a while for Vic + Flo Saw a Bear to really get interesting. Watching Vic and Flo meander their way through the relationship is not especially intriguing. Little hints of a fairy tale take a while to become clear, but once they do, it’s hard not to find Vic + Flo Saw a Bear impressively compelling. The violent ending, which solidifies the fantasy allegory, packs a punch that is wholly unexpected. It’s a shocking twist, though I found it difficult at times to thematically connect the fairy tale elements to the story of these two ex-convicts.

The cinematography is hauntingly beautiful as the whole film has a blue/gray tinge to it. The acting is solid, especially Robitaille’s. Without giving too much away, I will also note that Marie Brassard as Marina gives one of the most disturbing performances I’ve seen in a long while. Despite not clearly defining its themes, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear is an ambiguously intriguing take on revisionist fairy tales. Perhaps that is the point; just below the surface of the everyday mundane lays a terrifying threatening world.