Filmmaker Kim Nguyen goes out on an artistic limb with his new feature, setting the tale of raw, callow love against an Arctic landscape of hallucinatory beauty and deadly extremes. Not all of his gambles pay off, but "Two Lovers and a Bear" is above all thrillingly cinematic, even when its elements of lived-in intensity and jokey fantasy refuse to coalesce.
The drama unfolds in the remote Canadian territory of Nunavut, where damaged souls Roman and Lucy — well played, respectively, by Dane DeHaan ("Kill Your Darlings") and "Orphan Black" star Tatiana Maslany — alternately cling to each other and push each other away. DeHaan is especially adept at showing how attuned Roman is to the infinitesimal shifts in Lucy's mood. Yet as tenderly familiar as they are with each other's bodies and demons, it's evident that these two refugees from abusive households are still getting acquainted.
Their elliptical conversations and entwined silences prove far more compelling than the hackneyed back stories that emerge, although Nguyen ("War Witch") lends piercing details to well-traveled dramatic ground. His riskiest move doesn't pay off, but elsewhere there's a haunting power to the imagery that he and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc conjure.
By turns dreamlike, horror-tinged and mournful, the movie unwinds with the headlong certainty of its foolhardy lovers. Determined to escape the past that haunts them, they see no refuge but each other in a world of forbidding cold.
'Two Lovers and a Bear'
Rating: R, for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills