The story of two star-crossed lovers on the run from bad memories is at the heart of “Two Lovers and a Bear,” a new film from “Rebelle” director Kim Nguyen. Counselling them is a talking polar bear, a philosophical addition to a movie that is part romance, part thriller and all icy cold isolation.
Set in Apex, Nunavut, just shy of the North Pole, “Two Lovers and a Bear” is the tale of Lucy (Tatiana Maslany) and Roman (Dane DeHaan), angst-ridden lovers, tormented by recollections of their abusive pasts. The mere thought of Lucy’s father inspires panic attacks and Roman finally put his violent father in the rear view mirror by fighting back and leaving home. Still the thought of it haunts him. When Lucy is accepted into a school program in the south, the pair split, only to be brought back together by tragedy. Together they embark on a journey that forces them to confront their pasts while solidifying their bond.
The emotional stakes rise throughout as Nguyen weaves together magic realism—the silky voice of the polar bear is supplied by Gordon Pinsent—romance and the hard realities of Northern life. It’s an unpredictable story that intensifies with every twist, finding depth as the volatile characters explore the vast white expanse of their home and their innermost fears.
Maslany and DeHaan are an intoxicating combination. Lucy and Roman are strong willed characters, they have to be to survive the inhospitable cold of their home, but both wear their fragility on their sleeves. Desperately in love, the couple can’t live without one another but, paradoxically, are bad for one another. That contradiction at the heart of their relationship feeds the narrative thrust of the film, binding the story’s mishmash of genres.
“Two Lovers and a Bear” covers the kind of troubled relationship we’ve seen in other indie films—two young lovers battling demons—but Nguyen’s bold use of the setting and the strong, naturalistic and soulful performances at the heart of the film make it quite unlike anything we’ve seen before.