From what I’ve been able to gather Canadians seem to be a generally happy lot.
Maybe it’s the long, cold winters but the best-known Canadian-based films, at least on the international level, tend to be dark affairs, heavy on the psychoanalyzing and/or symbolizing. Of course, more straightforward fare such as Trailer Park Boys, Fubar, Bon Cop, Bad Cop and comedies about curling and hockey try to lighten that image but, at least on the European and American film festival circuit, Canadian auteurs are known as a dark and cerebral lot,
I mean, there is Quebec film-maker Denys Arcand’s Oscar-winning The Barbarian Invasions (a dying man is reunited with friends and family); Atom Egoyan’s Oscar -nominated The Sweet Hereafter (the effects of a fatal school bus crash on a small community); David Cronenberg’s Oscar-nominated A History of Violence (’nuff said); filmmaker/performer Sarah Polley’s Oscar-nominated Away from Her ( a woman suffers from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease), Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo (a punk rock singer kills himself after a disastrous tour) and the singularly strange Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World, The Forbidden Room, Dracula: Pages from A Virgin’s Diary).
Not to mention Kissed (a “comedy” about necrophilia. Go ahead. Look it up. I’ll wait); One Week (a young man learns he has terminal cancer), Last Night (a group of Canadians prepare for the end of the world) ; Suspicious River (a pimp savagely beats a young woman whom he suspects could be hooker material for a very specific client. Brr!), The Englishman’s Boy (the massacre of a peaceful village of Assiniboine Indians) … well, you get the idea.
Now we have Two Lovers and a Bear. I’ll be honest with you. The only reason I rented this was star Tatiana Maslany (I first saw her in the feature Grown-up Movie Star and on television playing multiple characters – and playing them well – in BBC America’s “Orphan Black” series) and writer/director Kim Nguyen (responsible for the excellent Rebelle.)
The setting itself is novel – a small town in the Canadian Arctic (the film was shot in Nunavut. Go ahead. look it up. I’ll wait). The film starts out on a positive note: young northerners dancing indoors, the whole community turning out for an event which (if memory serves me well) involves snowmobiles. There is some drinking going on. Ms. Maslany may not be a movie star yet but scenes of hot love in a cold climate with co-star Dane DeHaan (a young American actor best known for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, A Cure for Wellness, Tulip Fever and other movies that bombed at the U.S. box office) prove that she has indeed grown-up.
It all becomes dark and disturbing when the two lovers of the title, played by Ms. Maslany and Mr. DeHaan, take off for the Great White Beyond. And, oh yeah, I almost forgot. There is a talking bear (voiced by The Grand Old Man of Canadian Cinema, Gordon Pinsent. He also co-starred in Away From Her, now that I come to think about it.) Now, there is a walking, talking metaphor, (The bear, that is. Not Mr. Pinsent.)
To be fair, Mr. Nguyen and his crew treat viewers to a number of postcard pretty shots of the Arctic. Aside from watching Ms. Maslany navigate the challenges of yet another difficult role, though, I much prefer German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s Antarctica doc Encounters at the End of the World.