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Courtesy Calgary International Film Festival

CIFF Canadian gala selection introduces audiences to Two Lovers and a Bear

By Aisouda Savadlou, September 27 2016 —

The official Canadian Gala selection for this year’s Calgary International Film Festival was — as promised — very Canadian.

Two Lovers and a Bear features Canadian director Kim Nguyen and stars Canadian Emmy Award winner Tatiana Maslany, known for her lead role in the television show Orphan Black. The film was primarily shot in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Maslany acts alongside American actor Dane DeHaan.

The story is set in a small city close to the Arctic circle and follows Roman and Lucy, two lovers -haunted by their pasts as they struggle to fight their inner demons and keep their love alive.

Roman and Lucy connect through their shared experience of dealing with abusive fathers, but don’t have much in common besides their mutual love.

The on-screen chemistry between the lovers is phenomenal, evoking audience sympathy throughout the film.

There were many times during the screening where audiences laughed at a cringe-worthy joke from Lucy or gasped as the couple faced a life-threatening situation.

“I was immediately certain that [DeHaan] has never acted before in the sense that he was playing his own self and directed as if it was a documentary. That’s how I authentically thought of him for the role,” Nguyen says. “Tatiana, truth be told, we didn’t think of her initially. Orphan Black and Two Lovers and a Bear are two universes that are so different, but she did a screening test and she was amazing.”

As the title suggests, a talking polar bear shocked the audience upon its arrival, but introduces an element of comic relief following the more intense moments of the movie.

“[The bear] is definitely a mystical bear and he relates a lot for me to the mythical figures of the Greeks since they are gods that have flaws, they are imperfect gods,” Nguyen says. “For me, it was almost a mirror of Roman.”

Towards the end of the movie, the bear explicitly mentions the idea of being an “imperfect god.” The declaration seems unnecessary, as audiences should have the opportunity to create their own interpretation of this needy, alcoholic bear.

The film’s plot embeds elements of different genres. Themes of abuse and torment appeared frequently during the movie. How they affect Lucy and Roman’s mental health made the film feel like a psychological thriller.

Lucy and Roman’s devotion to each other provides an aspect of romance to the film, but the ironic and bizarrely funny moments of this romantic-thriller hybrid bring release in tense moments.

However, experimenting with different genres deprives the audience of getting to know the characters fully. Throughout the movie, Lucy’s passion for photography comes to light through her desire to capture the auroras borealis. On the other hand, Roman’s interests, besides his everlasting love for Lucy, aren’t shown. The character could have been explored further.

The cinematography is visually stunning, as Nguyen uses the unwelcoming and cold environment of Iqaluit to his advantage. Shots of the characters riding snowmobiles across the isolated and snow-covered landscape of the Arctic and time-lapses of moving icebergs show the earth as a living being.

Nguyen says these shots help bridge the character’s internal struggles with their surroundings.

“[It’s] so amazing to see the connection between the harshness of the environment and how that can relate to the inner torments of a character,” Nguyen says.

Two Lovers and a Bear is an oddly funny psychological and romantic drama with outstanding performances and stunning cinematography. The film suffers from superficial character development, but still provides an entertaining glance at Canadian landscapes and talent.

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