Filmgoers at the Berlinale have been treated with a diversity of voices in Canadian filmmaking, from a movie that "traumatized" audience members to one that had them laughing.
The Quebec French-language film Vic et Flo ont vu un ours (Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) by director Denis Côté was screened by the international audience on Sunday, shocking many in the audience with its surprising ending.
“A lot of Denis Côté’s films are mysterious,” said Deniz Sertkol, an online journalist from Berlin.
“I found it very cruel. I like it a lot but I didn’t know what to do with it. Canadian movies are often strange and edgy, creepy but still humourous.”
Others said they left the cinema "traumatized" by the final scenes.
The film is about a woman who leaves prison and reunites with another woman she knew behind bars. It stars Romane Bohringer, Pierrette Robitaille and Marc-André Grondin.
“I’m quite proud of the way people react,” Côté told reporters at a news conference after the screening. “I would like to establish a kind of tension and offer the possibilities and that’s what you find in this film.”
And perhaps, on the other side of the emotional spectrum, Hold Fast, a coming-of-age film from Newfoundland, had people both laughing and crying during its marketplace screening Saturday.
The story, based on the Governor-General award-winning novel by Kevin Major, concerns a 14-year-old boy named Michael, who is sent to live in the city with a cousin after his parents die in a car crash.
The two boys decide to run away from their unhappy home and end up deep in the Newfoundland wilderness, showcasing some of the best locations such as Cape Spear and Gros Morne National Park.
“It’s a very universal story that touches on universal emotions, feelings of place, identity, friendship, standing up for yourself, learning what your place is in the world,” writer Rosemary House said, adding both the boys are born-and-bred Newfoundlanders.
The movie also stars Canadian actress Molly Parker (Deadwood, Men with Brooms, Rare Birds).
“It’s a simple story, very movingly told. It’s a big movie look as well. It sweeps you away," House said.
"Canadian films sometimes have a hard time finding a theatrical audience but there seems to be something about this film, you could tell anyone with authority — your friends, your grandma, your kids, your husband – you’ll enjoy it.”
Berlinale marks the beginning of the international film festival season and there is a good buzz building this year about the latest Canadian films, said Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm Canada.
“Truly, we’re on a wave, surfing on a wave. People are wanting to meet with us, it’s a really, really good buzz,” she said in between meetings at the Canadian sales booth.
It is particularly gratifying to have Canadian films in the competition category, two years in a row, Brabant said.
Last year, Quebec director Kim Nguyen’s latest film, War Witch (Rebelle), premiered in Berlin. It won the Silver Bear for actress Rachel Mwanza before going onto an Academy Awards nomination in the best foreign-language film category.
“That’s what’s special about Canada. We’re a small country in terms of population but what we’re able to do in terms of creativity and what we achieve in feature films people don’t always realize that because we’re so close to the United States and the States are so big that we don’t realize we’re punching above our weight,” she said.
“We have a brand, we have a voice, we have a tone. People are talking about the French cinematography, the Italians, but now people are talking about Canadian films as well. Diversity is one characteristic of our films. They’re truly Canadian but they’re open to the world.”
Côté agrees, although with some reservations.
“The Canadian voice usually we associate with [David] Cronenberg and [Atom] Egoyan and [Guy] Maddin, [directors who have] a very cerebral work, a cold approach and everything is so detached. I’m from French Canada and we’re a little different,” he said.
“I’m not saying Canadian cinema is reproducing Hollywood cinema but an ambitious guy from Toronto or Vancouver, he’s looking at L.A. and trying to find a job in L.A. In Montreal, we’re looking at Cannes, at Paris, at Europe, so maybe we’re more willing to experiment. It makes films more arty."
Still, Côté also hopes to translate his exposure in Berlin, into box office success.
“Hopefully with this new film … hopefully I can find a new audience. Being here… being in competition is the last step. I don’t know what’s higher than Berlinale competition. It’s very, very, very flattering,” he said.
“I sound like a hockey player, I hope we play well in the third period and we’re giving our 100 per cent.”