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Vic+FloSawaBearQ+A with VIC+FLO SAW A BEAR writer/director, Denis Côté

Canadian writer/director, Denis Côté, has made some great films over the past few years, including CURLING and BESTIARE. For some reason, while Côté’s films win many awards at film festivals around the world, he has gone rather under the radar in his home country. This Friday holds the release of his latest film, VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR. I think it is safe to say that this may be Côté’s best film yet, and hopefully it will finally earn him the recognition he deserves here in Canada. I had the chance to ask Côté some questions about his intense new film, that will hopefully shed some light on his most fascinating film to date.

BLACK SHEEP REVIEWS: Congratulations on the film. I really enjoyed it. This film is quite different from your last few films; what inspired you to make it?

DENIS COTE: I don’t like to repeat myself and I like to put myself in danger, I guess. Hard to say in which way but some psychoanalyst would find stuff to link all my films for sure. Inspiration is a mysterious thing. I knew I wanted to go further than Curling while at the same time still be interested by characters living on the edge of society. I like people who think they can get away with their own rules, their own little government, their own garden. But society is always there, lurking. Mainly, I wanted to write more dialogues, and for female characters. Vic+Flo just ‘happened’…


Denis Côté at the film’s premiere in Berlin.

BSR: You decided to include little to no backstory for Vic and Flo, can you talk about your decision for this and what you hoped it would do for the film?

DC: I think the film is narratively much more generous than say, Curling. I don’t think I’m hiding things to the viewer. Essential and minimal informations are there. We know Vic was incarcerated for something serious, most probably a murder if she’s stuck for life with a parole officer. I have all I need in that info to build a story at the present time. Let’s move on from that point. Why shoot flashbacks and write explicit dialogues? For me, it’s there. Jackie is a ghost from the past and needs a hell of a revenge. We know what we need to know. We can easily guess Jackie and Flo were partners in crime at some point. If some viewers want to consider those things like plot holes or confusing elements of the story, I would strongly disagree. I love open spaces and it’s a sign of respect for any active viewer.


Vic+Flo, Pierette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer

BSR: There was a scene in the film showing what appeared to be a women’s prison. As you have made documentaries before, I was wondering if this was real footage. Why did you decide to include this?

DC: All actors, extras and a fake place. We created the barbed-wire kinda jail look environment. I’m glad if you think it’s doc-style. In the script, the last scene of the film was Vic+Flo walking on roads for a long time and ending up where they met, the jail. They’d watch for a minute other inmates walking in the yard, smoking, drinking coffee etc. But we had too many endings and we were unable to generate more emotions. So I had this idea to create some sort of floating souvenir at mid-story. I worked with a parole officer. She told me about prison life for women. Most of the infos are accurate in the film except for 4-5 scenes which would never happen in real life (Chinese restaurant, train museum, aquarium…).


Vic+Flo co-star, Marc-Andre Grondin

BSR: The film is titled ‘Vic+Flo Saw a Bear’ but through the entirety of the film, there is no physical bear. Was Jackie’s character meant to represent a bear?

DC: ‘Saw a bear’ for me is the whole ending of the film. As simple as that. There’s a sense of menace in the title and we expect that menace for the whole film. Seeing it, feeling it, forgetting it, finding it… is part of the game so the title works as some sort of allegory I guess. Or yeah, you could say Jackie is the bear 🙂 .


Flo+Vic see an acquarium

BSR: Flo is depicted as bisexual and unable to be happy in a relationship with only Vic as her lover/companion. She even goes far enough as to break-up with Vic prior to the film’s climax. However, in the end the two are shown literally walking off into the sunset together. They aren’t holding hands, just walking together. Is that a message about the impossibility of monogamy? Is Flo being punished by having to spend eternity with someone she doesn’t truly love? Or is this a commentary about the state of lesbian and bisexual relationships?

DC: I get really uncomfortable with stereotype questions. After every screening, there’s people from the audience who are very suspicious about my way of depicting that relationship. They are completely working inside the stereotype and are convinced directors/writers use some moral schemes to judge or abandon or celebrate their character’s sexual identity. I don’t care for that moral standpoint. Women meet in jail. They create security couples in a hostile environment. Then they get out of jail and decide to live in peace with women because they are used to it or they want to rediscover the world of men as soon as possible. It has nothing to do with homosexuality in my opinion. People are not ‘punished’ because they are something in the film. There’s no metaphors, no symbols. Things and events happened, things are happening, destiny takes what it has to take. It’s very concrete. The mise-en-scene can use some very black humour sometimes or seems to come out of a grotesque comic book near the end but from a moral or stereotypical point of view, I’m just not there.


BSR: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

DC: Finishing an essay film called Joy of Man’s Desiring. It’s a DIY experimentation made with 3-4 people, Bestiaire-style. It’s an allegory on the idea of work I would say. I need to digest it.

As you can tell from Côté’s answers above, VIC+FLO SAW A BEAR is not a simple film. Though the film runs at just over an hour and a half, there is plenty of conversation and debate to be had afterwards. So, c’mon Canada, it is time to give Côté his due.  VIC+FLO SAW A BEAR opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, this Friday.

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