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First Look Review - TWO LOVERS AND A BEAR

A troubled young couple heads into the icy Canadian expanse in search of peace.






Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Kim Nguyen

Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Dane DeHaan, Gordon Pinsent



Even when its characters are not particularly interesting, the landscape and cinematography always is. What a beautifully made film Two Lovers and a Bear is. This is a pensive indie romance filmed with an artist’s eye.



Just like the vast and expressive plains of the desert as utilised within the Western genre, the depiction of snow laden horizons within cinema is immediately suggestive; bringing to the screen a sense of immaculate isolation, a pristine existentialism, a blank white page ready to host the stark black ink of human drama. Set in a small town near the North Pole, Two Lovers and a Bear tells the sad, indie-inflected tale of, yes, two lovers (and an actual bear), stranded amongst the ice and blizzards, haunted by spectres of their past, and imprisoned by their frozen geography.


Dane DeHaan plays one of the eponymous paramours, a none more DeHaanian portrayal of battered youth and causeless rebellion. Looking more than ever like the love child of Leonardo DeCaprio and Casey Affleck, DeHaan’s Roman scowls his way about the town, drinking and letting off his rifle in the middle in the night, pausing only to have halting but sensual sex with Lucy (Tatiana Maslany), another lost soul. With Lucy (an affecting performance from Maslany), we are at least given a reason for her misery - a strange and possibly imaginary looming figure seems to be following her. The source of Roman’s anguish is hinted at in a much vaguer manner, and herein lies the issue with Two Lovers and a Bear: without being given a developed reason for both of these kids’ upset, their characters at first seem rather depthless and difficult to emphasise with. Roman comes off worse due to who he’s played by, and just transpires as default-DeHaan (like when he played Amazing Spider-Man’s Harry Osborne, one of the most psychologically complex and tragic characters in Marvel history, and he was a twitching nutcase from the off). It doesn’t help either that the first conversation that we hear Lucy and Roman having concerns the brilliance of Jack White’s lyrics: the film immediately locating itself within the navel gazing pomposity of self-aware indie. The drinking, and alienation, that follows is at first (erroneously, it turns out) mistaken for old fashioned adolescent angst, the supposed weight of which is left to be emphasised by Jesse Zubot’s gorgeous, gelid score rather than any tangible narrative reason.


Still, even when these two are not particularly interesting, the landscape and cinematography always is. What a beautifully made film Two Lovers and a Bear is. This is a pensive indie romance filmed with an artist’s eye. The drama is shot with cool elegance, and, although it was surely tempting to make more of it, the landscape is only ever used sparingly and to poignant effect, a bare expanse of nothing that presages Roman and Lucy’s future. And then, as the lovers attempt to take control of their own destiny and finally travel into the white, the film itself takes a new turn, following their leads’ snowmobile quest away from the past and into an uncharted destiny.


It is in the second half of the film where Two Lovers and a Bear finds its pace and purpose, with a tense 127 Hours a-like scene in a collapsed snow drift, a gothic chase through an abandoned army outpost, and Roman’s dreamy interactions with a sage-like polar bear who muses upon karma and the like (‘I can speak to bears,’ he explains, and it’s left at that, a deadpan explanation which I loved the film for). We also find out what, exactly, Lucy is running from, and it makes terrible and sickening sense, and our sympathies are with this good looking couple with ugly problems, albeit a little too late. When you’re young, you think you can take on the world, and occasionally you may be right, but other times, as this film’s melancholy conclusion intones, the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of snow in this cruel world.





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