Until Branches Bend | Film Threat
Mar 16, 2023
SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Canadian writer-director Sophie Jarvis makes her feature-length debut with the gripping, atmospheric eco-tale Until Branches Bend. Robin (Grace Glowicki) works as a cannery worker, specifically, her job is to grade peaches. When her co-workers go on break, she finds a disturbing-looking, potentially invasive insect in the fruit. Robin takes photos, then alerts her boss, Dennis (Lochlyn Munro), who consults his management. Unfortunately, the company elects to ignore it, assuming it’s an isolated occurrence and sweeps the whole incident under the rug.
The processing facility is located in the Okanagan valley in British Columbia, which had previously been devastated by an invasive species of moth. The moth infestation spread throughout the region and destroyed crops and livelihoods at a terrifying pace. When Robin finds the insect in a peach, the area is just beginning to recover from that damage, and no one wants to hear about another possible infestation. Despite being brushed off, she is undeterred and sends the photos to an agricultural lab. The result is the cannery being closed until an investigation can be done. The townspeople are enraged when they hear what she’s done. In their short-sighted reactionary fury, Robin is ostracized, as if she was responsible for the insect being in the fruit.
The changes impact Robin’s home life as well. Her sister Laney (Alexandra Roberts) decides to leave town to pursue work elsewhere. Further complicating the situation, Robin learns she’s pregnant following casual sex and has no income stream. She is told the pregnancy is too far along for an abortion pill, and having the actual procedure is a logistical nightmare complicated by puritanical anti-reproductive rights laws.
“…finds a disturbing-looking, potentially invasive insect in the fruit.”
Until Branches Bend seems to be a straightforward David vs. Goliath story, reminiscent of the themes in Silkwood, Norma Rae, Erin Brokovich, and Dark Waters. However, Jarvis takes a different path than any of her predecessors. She touches on much deeper themes of humanity being at odds with nature and also shines a light on rural misogyny and mob rule. This all comes through the lens of cinematographer Jeremy Cox’s lush 16mm vision of the beautiful landscape of an Okanagan valley summer. The grainy film adds to the mystery of dusty, hot days spent picking peaches and Robin’s struggles to convince the town that another infestation is coming.
Glowicki delivers a commanding performance. She’s tall and a bit awkward, attractive, with intense physicality. Yet, she never seems at a loss, as her confidence in her ethics drives her outside the comfort of the life she’s made. The ferocity of her personality is as casually powerful as that of a great beast. She’s almost carelessly confident, never questioning herself.
It’s clear that Robin is much more affected by the possibility of an infestation than would be explained by a natural amount of concern. She’s somehow linked the idea that the insect in the peach is an echo of the unexpected, potentially invasive life growing inside her womb. She seeks to rediscover her equilibrium, rejoin her sister to escape the sudden twists of fate, and regain control over a better life ahead; whether she can is left to the viewer to discover.
The director presents this psychological drama without much exposition or rumination. The viewer witnesses events and is welcome to interpret their meanings and themes. This opens the film up to many different concepts and conclusions. Until Branches Bend is as powerful a thrill ride as it is a statement. Jarvis delivers mightily with her first feature film.
Until Branches Bend screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
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