TIFF 2016 Review: Two Lovers and a Bear21 September 2016 / by Reza Hassanirad (author)
Two Lovers and a Bear starts with a fun and charming exchange between the film’s two leads Roman (Dane DeHaan) and Lucy (Tatiana Maslany) while they ice fish in Canada’s north. The brief scene, calm and tranquil, shows us two likeable young souls with genuine affection for each other. But the serenity doesn’t last long.
Family trauma has driven both of them to the remote town of Apex in Nunavut, where they live, work and play - and struggle with their personal demons. Their strong romantic bond is threatened when Lucy is admitted into a biology university program far from Apex. Despite his love for Lucy, Roman has no intention to leave town, so he freezes her out of his life, and falls into the pits of his psychic scars. With two weeks left before her departure, Lucy relentlessly seeks out her beloved.
Eventually Roman realizes he can’t live without Lucy and agrees to leave with her. Strapped for cash, they tempt the merciless tundra by setting out on snowmobiles to journey to their destination.
Well-acted and impressively shot, the film is a respectable entry into the well-stocked shelf of tales about troubled lovers.
But the film goes beyond just romance. There are moments of genuine tension such as when Roman falls into a precipitous cavity in the snowy terrain and hacks near (and slightly into) his trapped leg to free himself as his snowmobile totters perilously above him. Their emergency stay in an evacuated military base nudges the film’s feel into something of a horror thriller but it works nevertheless.
Amid all this, the relationship between Roman and Lucy remains central. The easy energy between them is wonderfully highlighted when she shares a long joke and he playfully mocks her delivery.
One of the most arresting moments in the film is when the two come across a herd of caribou frozen in an icy lake. Drawing on her scientific knowledge, Lucy elegiacally describes how nature’s capriciousness can result in such a frigid sepulcher. Director Kim Nguyen heightens our sense of the presence and power of nature by threading in stunning visuals that show the arctic landscape inhaling and exhaling.
Added to all this is a dab of magical realism that fits well into the overall texture of the film. Roman’s periodic conversations with a polar bear who has a taste for drink stronger than Coca Cola is amusing and profound.
The greatest and weakest point of the film both occur in the end. A voiceover delivers a string of epiphanies that feel too tidy and abrupt. But the final images are so raw and impactful that even the most cynical will be moved.
If you have no time for romantic melodrama, then you might find it difficult to get through Two Lovers and a Bear. But if you enjoy the genre, or want to challenge your aversion to it, then this is one that does a good job delivering the goods.