Canada at Cannes: First Reactions to 'Two Lovers and a Bear'

Photo courtesy of Max Films
Canada’s second turn to bat at Cannes seems to be a hit. Reports say that War Witch director Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear premiered to great applause on Wednesday. The reviews are largely positive with special praise going to Nguyen’s use of magical realism and evocative use of the arctic landscape, while the performances by Tatiana Maslany and Dane DeHaan are drawing strong notices. Critics and Croisette-goers also seem to like the appearance of Gordon Pinsent as a talking bear, which is a surprise previously unrevealed in the film’s coverage. Here are the first reactions and we’ll update as more Two Lovers and a Bear news comes in. Peter Howell speculates on a TIFF slot, so we’ll keep fingers crossed for the film’s North American Premiere.

Variety: Nguyen’s snow-white weepie is about as far as one can get — in both thematic and geographical terms — from his Oscar-nominated “War Witch,” though it does share that film’s peculiar blend of open-wound realism and near-mystical hallucination… Here in this incredible location, Nguyen actively encourages our imaginations to go wild, teasing anxieties that typically only come out in the most effective horror movies…

Somehow, in the final stretch, Nguyen has transformed what felt like a relatively generic, un-special indie love story into something totally unpredictable, taking full advantage of the gorgeous widescreen lensing to convey the atmosphere and magic of his locations... The film’s final image is one of incredible, heart-catching poignancy, one whose foundations trace back to what at the time felt like throwaway scenes in its opening minutes, and for the few who actually see this movie, the power of that ending will make the entire experience virtually impossible to forget.

The Hollywood Reporter: Unlike in War Witch, the writer-director’s ballsy ambition isn’t channeled into a sophisticated but smooth overarching storyline. Some individual scenes are certainly striking and the couple’s complex relationship and chemistry are believable but the overall narrative retains an erratic and somewhat jerky quality as the various elements don’t always logically build on what has come before.

Toronto Star: Nguyen employs some magic realism, as he did in 2012 with his Oscar-nominated child soldier drama Rebelle (War Witch), to make snowy landscapes rhythmically heave as if they’re a human chest breathing...
No computer can outmatch nature’s imposing creations, caught by cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc’s wide lens and enhanced by Jesse Zubot’s electronic score.

The Film Stage: Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear is a film that suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Like an indie playlist stuck on constant shuffle, unapologetically reveling in a sort of manic unclassifiable genre. This isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, but, for some reason, Nguyen’s scattershot tonal shifts — which hop between a romance on the rocks; a self-serious study of grieving; and a surreal buddy comedy — can prove quite jarring.

Games Radar: As far as Lucy and Roman are concerned, they’re the only two people in the world, a fact Nguyen and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc make explicit by placing them in a series of breathtakingly barren polar vistas. The alien environments also play host to some unsettling sights, including a herd of deer half submerged in a frozen lake after falling to their deaths. It’s this willingness to go to darker places that sets Two Lovers and a Bear apart – despite the romance there’s a realism and a brutality to the world that Nguyen doesn’t shy away from, landing gut punches that won’t soon be forgotten. 

CineFile: Of course not easy to twist, Two Lovers and Bear manages to surprise at every turn, and despite being totally centered around the two main characters very well conveys the vastness of the desert of ice around them as well as its danger. Nguyen is good to alternate the records and to create extremely well managed sequences without overdoing it, never a wrong time (one, maybe ...) and coming to a conclusion of great emotional impact.

A photo posted by Dane DeHaan (@danedehaan) on

A photo posted by Julien Wagner (@wagner.julien) on