SIFF 2023: Until Branches Bend

Directed by: Sophie Jarvis
Distributed by: Photon Films and Media

Written by Anna Harrison


Peaches can symbolize a lot of things: youth, sex, fertility, or even a fleshlight if you’re Timothée Chalamet. In Sophie Jarvis’s “Until Branches Bend,” they are both the promise of a new life and the rot of a current one, both poison and cure, and they are also the lifeblood of the small town in Canada where Robin (Grace Glowicki) and her sister, Laney (Alexandra Roberts) live. Everything revolves around the peaches: the poorest citizens work as peach inspectors or pickers, the richest run the peach plant, and peaches are embedded in the iconography of the town. So when Robin finds a bug in one of the peaches she’s been tasked to inspect, all hell breaks loose—but not at first.

After taking it to her boss, Dennis (Lochlyn Munro), who dismisses it as a nonissue, Robin’s paranoia grows, especially when she thinks back to how her parents lost it all amidst an infestation some years ago. And, of course, she’s pregnant by Dennis, who has a wife and family of his own. Suffice to say, Robin is not having a good time, torn between duty to her town and fear of what she might unleash, and her small world begins to feel bigger and bigger until it threatens to overwhelm her and everything she holds dear.

Like her protagonist, Jarvis also finds herself split between two impulses: there is the plainer, more domestic fare of her film, and the dreamlike paranoia that Robin finds herself slipping into. When Robin’s pregnancy and the peaches she obsessed over merge and blur, or when Jarvis tricks the audience into seeing bugs out of the corner of their eye, “Until Branches Bend” becomes something worth watching, the 16mm it was filmed on giving everything a hazy quality that mirrors Robin’s fracturing mind. Yet when Jarvis turns her lens onto Laney’s relationship woes, or the tension in Dennis’s marriage, that haziness snaps away, 16mm or no. Any mysteriousness vanishes, replaced instead by a middling family drama in the trappings of arthouse indie. 

It’s not bad, per se, but feels out of place—like something that should be in a television show, especially compared to some of the scenes with Robin that feel plucked from a horror movie. Do we need to know about the suspicions that Dennis’s wife harbors about an affair? Or their son? It certainly doesn’t grab the attention the way Robin’s obsessive and silent stalking of the peach trees does, and feels as if Jarvis threw the scenes in there to make sure no one was scared off from the more obtuse (and more intriguing) moments. Still, for a first feature, Jarvis shows remarkable command of pacing and aesthetic, and Glowicki proves a capable anchor of the film. Next time, hopefully Jarvis will leave the domestic drama at the door.

“Until Branches Bend” Trailer

“Until Branches Bend” was screened as part of the 49th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram, or her website.

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