SXSW Film Review: Until Branches Bend

Gorgeous eco-drama about how a tiny beetle upends a town

credit: SSMT Productions/Cinédokké

Canada's Okanagan Valley may look like a Bob Ross oil painting, but when a curious factory worker discovers an invasive beetle burrowed inside the stone fruit, things quickly become less than peachy keen.

One day while her coworkers are on break, peach grader Robin (Grace Glowicki) inspects a fuzzy fruit, splitting open a wormhole to reveal a nasty, crawling insect. When she shows the bug to her supervisor, he shrugs her off like it’s no big deal. But after a moth invasion in the winter left the agricultural industry in shambles, Robin’s not taking any chances, ultimately – if unintentionally – getting the mill shut down. In doing so, she becomes the target of intense backlash from the tight-knit town folks, most of them having lost their jobs during peak season. Pissed off, and understandably so, the community refuses to believe Sophie ever found a beetle, and she spends the remainder of the movie obsessively seeking evidence of its threatening existence.

Shot on 16 mm film, SXSW selection Until Branches Bend saturates the screen with sun-baked warmth. The mountainous imagery, set to an operatic choir and whimsical flutes, lingers long enough to attract flies. In her feature-length debut, director Sophie Jarvis basks in gorgeous landscapes, inviting viewers to the small town of Montague. She’s methodical to a fault, though, and the pacing lags. Like its protagonist, Branches stays stuck in one place for just too long.

A parallel storyline where Sophie, a single young woman taking care of her teenage sister (Alexandra Roberts), seeks an abortion but gets caught in a web of restrictive laws, seems to mirror that theme of wanting control over sticky situations. Without autonomy over her own body, Sophie obsesses over finding proof that the beetle was real. Unfortunately, it takes some heavy lifting on the audience’s part to piece these two narratives together.

But although the narrative side lacks cohesion, the character creation exudes a strong sense of completeness. Sophie, with Glowicki’s unmatched understanding of her role’s motivations and nuances, is written with great attention to detail. Her sister, Laney, also encompasses a refreshing Gen-Z empathy and care. The bond between the two of them makes the somewhat dispassionate narrative take second precedence. Together, the acting duo elevates a story that, while clearly dear to the crew’s hearts, displayed with a visual brilliance, gives short shrift to clarity in favor of a rich atmosphere.

Until Branches Bend

Visions, US Premiere

Wed 15, 11am, Alamo Lamar C
Fri 17, 11:15am, Alamo Lamar C

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