Denis Côté is one of Canada’s most prolific and divisive filmmakers. He’s also an internationally renowned award winner who makes films that are just different enough to feel completely real. His latest film, Vic & Flo Has a Bear, opens Friday, November 22, 2013 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. TFS has the chance to speak to Côté about his film in advance of its release.
Where did the story for Vic and Flo come from? What inspired you to want to tell it?
I can’t remember what was the initial spark for the story but I sure wanted to push some ideas that were already in Curling. I’m always interested in characters who must reconnect with a certain idea of society or community, either because they are rejected or because they consciously choose to stay or live away from it. I definitely wanted to write more dialogues, concentrate on female characters and play with film genres. Vic+Flo just …happened… It’s blank page after blank page kinda thing.
Vic and Flo has three gay characters, but isn’t a film strictly about gay issues. Why was it important to the story to have the main couple be gay?
I’m always a bit annoyed when some viewers are trying to read the film through sexual identity stereotypes. It was absolutely not important for this couple to be gay because… I’m not even sure they are! And it’s not relevant. I worked with a parole officer and she told how it works inside the walls for women. They meet and create security couples. Then they get out of jail and decide to stay with women or meet guys as soon as possible. The question of homosexuality is not even there in my opinion. Victoria is genuinely in love with Flo I think, partly because she is not interested in meeting new people. Flo is probably in a hurry to meet guys. The gay issue is not there.
Marc-Andre Grondin might be your most high-profile Canadian casting choice yet, but hes also the outsider to the little group of people in the film. What were your thoughts behind casting him?
I worked with Marc-Andre in 2010 on a medium length film The Enemy Lines. I admire his discipline and his talent. I knew he’d be perfect. And he’s a friend. He’s pro and he makes me feel pro when I work with him, whatever that means!
Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer were phenomenal in their respective roles. What did you look for in the casting of Vic & Flo?
I knew I wanted a ‘special’ cast. Pierrette (Vic) comes from popular comedy, Romane (Flo) comes from arthouse french cinema and Marc-Andre is more like a star. Those are 3 very different energies and I was curious to see what I could pull out of these energies. Those two women are very natural. They can be rough and touching at the same time.
Your films focus on the natural action and reactions of people, and include a lot of stillness. How did you come to incorporate this into your style?
Over time, I got pretty allergic to transition shots or functional scenes like we see in so many films. People drive cars from point A to point B, people knock on doors then enter, directors use sky shots to make sure everything is breathing well. I’m done with that. My characters appear or disappears, they are just ‘there’. It seems ‘still’ or static but I’m pretty sure it adds to the rigor of the narrative. I don’t want any fat in my mise en scene and I cut my stuff in a very dry way.
Your stories include very little exposition that wouldn’t be included in regular dialogue (for example, in this film we don’t find out very much about Vics criminal past, we only know that there is one). Why is this such an important part of your work?
I’m no fan of flashbacks and explicit dialogues. The audience feels so comfortable when you tell things twice or even 3 times. Movies are very explicit nowadays and leave no ambiguity for anything. Things are shown, told, and reminded. I think we can trust the audience more than that. My stories are told at the present time and I think the pleasure is to fill in some gaps or imagine things coming from the past. I really think we get minimal and necessary informations in Vic+Flo. Vic is followed by a parole officer because she got a life sentence. What else do we need? She obviously killed someone at some point. Flo made a mistake in the past, we can easily guess it. She will be punished for that. I made elliptical films that were confusing at times. Vic+Flo is minimal but clear narrative.
Your work is often called inaccessible and divides viewers? What do you think about that? Has this ever changed your filmmaking?
I’m 40 now. I made eight feature films, won awards, get regular retros of my work around the world. At some point, I have to stop asking myself where I should be and who I should make films for. Some people like it, some don’t and I stopped worrying. Vic+Flo will be considered a bit more accessible for sure. It’s true it’s my most generous film for the audience. But I don’t make films to provoke or to be seen as weird or anything. I try to think about and to react to conventions. I try to make different things, that’s all. I’m quite outside the system and I’m ferociously independent. I won’t feel ashamed for that.
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