Though magic realism isn’t anything new in cinema, there are few original scripts that get the genre right as deftly as Two Lovers and a Bear, the indie romance/drama that premiered earlier this year at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Kim Nguyen (Rebelle, La cite), Two Lovers and a Bear tells the story of Roman (Dane DeHaan) and Lucy (Tatiana Maslany), a young couple living difficult lives in a remote arctic community who must confront their personal demons when one of them decides to leave town and head south. Their relationship, like the barren white landscape that surrounds the town in all directions, is simultaneously beautiful, ugly, and terrifying in its intensity.
Audiences familiar with Maslany’s work on television’s Orphan Black won’t be surprised by the skill and talent on display in her portrayal of Lucy. Maslany perfectly blends fragility and ferocity in her performance. From the first moment that she appears on screen, Maslany brings with her a sense of immediacy that is absolutely crucial to the film’s plot. She also captures authentic meandering qualities through her carefully crafted and compelling characterization. DeHaan is impressive as well, particularly in the film’s final act, but his performance lacks the maturity and depth of Maslany’s. For the majority of the film, DeHaan’s Roman is more annoyingly childish than sympathetically troubled.
Filmed in Nunavut, specifically in the communities of Apex and Iqaluit, one of the film’s strengths is its depiction of life in a northern community. From house parties featuring traditional Inuit foods to exorbitant alcohol prices to snowmobile racing, the world of Two Lovers and a Bear is radically different from what most viewers of this film will ever know or experience. Yet, these differences and idiosyncrasies are never turned into spectacle. The unique aspects of artic life are normalized in a way that a filmmaker with a less delicate touch would have struggled to achieve.
Atmospheric and relentlessly original, Two Lovers and a Bear is a beautiful film set against an extraordinary landscape.
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