Two Lovers and a Bear is freezing cold, and a piece of surreal perfection
Tatiana Maslany and Dane DeHaan must have really taken to Kim Nguyen's surreal arctic love story because Two Lovers and a Bear left them out in the cold. The freezing cold, in fact. But to them, it was a very worthy project, and this original Canadian, The Shining-esque lovers-on-the-run story was one they needed to make together. It's a good thing they did, because the movie is both terrific and terrifying... and it features a George Clooney cameo (though he probably does not know this movie exists).
Tatiana (Lucy) and Dane (Roman) only have each other. She's trying to get her life together following an abuse-related encounter with a family member, while he's living a solitary search and rescue life, and refuses to revisit his past. The two reside in Iqaluit — almost as North as it gets in Canada — which does not make their intentional isolation any easier. Instead, it just fuels it and increases their hysteria. Plus, food and alcohol is so expensive, making the environment even less hospitable. There's not much to do except spend every waking minute together, or working odd jobs.
The sex has gone cold, too.
So, it's no surprise then that Lucy wants to go back to school and leave town. Roman, who would rather stay in his beer-drinking bubble forever, fears she's going to grow up without him and grow away from him. He lashes out at her, and after a moment of weakness and excessive drinking on what is believed to be Oscar night — this includes, of course, Clooney in stock red carpet footage playing on TV — the two reunite and decide to go on that adventure together, with his-and-her snowmobiles. They travel through the barren Arctic to get to their next destination, but you sense they're doomed to fail and doubt they'll ever make it. Especially after a dramatic fall-through-the-ice rescue scene. Thankfully, Roman can speak to polar bears, and it's less weird than it sounds.
Fighting the elements, Lucy and Roman make each other laugh with their terrible jokes. Watching their love is like a fever dream, and yet she still cannot escape her nightmares. You really root for these two to start a new life together, away from their demons, and hope they find their way out of the cold.
If The Revenant showcased the Canadian frontier like never before, Two Lovers and a Bear does the same thing for Nunavut. The sweeping scenic shots only amplify Lucy and Roman's detachment from reality, and the vast, bleak landscapes and harsher weather seemingly have starring roles in the film. The natural beauty of the North is simultaneously gorgeous and startling, as Eyes Wide Shut-style tension envelopes the characters with a blanket of snow.
This intimate, off-beat thrill ride marks Tatiana's return to TIFF, four years after she hit the fest for Picture Day in 2012. This was when she was in the Orphan Black audition phase. That same year, Dane was in Toronto for The Place Beyond the Pines, and Kim premiered his film Rebelle (AKA War Witch), which would later go on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and win a bunch of Canadian Screen Awards. It's kismet, then, that the three of them were able to use that coincidental overlap of movies and time to find an opportunity to work together in one of the coldest spots of the country. This northern version of The Others is one of a kind, and proves Tatiana is as adaptable and talented as ever in one of the most memorable, original movies I've seen this year.
To quote Tatiana, "viewer beware, you're in for a bear."
Plus, doesn't the snowmobiling look like so much fun?
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