SXSW 2023 review: Until Branches Bend (Sophie Jarvis)

“There is a star-making performance from Glowicki in this thought-provoking, environmentalist drama that will create food for thought as we examine our relationship with the truth and our conscience on a macro level.”

Whistleblowing is a concept that remains topical as it typically results in the David vs. Goliath, politically drawn battle that Until Branches Bend explores. Whilst at work, fruit processing plant worker Robin (Grace Glowicki) discovers a potentially invasive insect within a fruit and is uncertain of the action to take, but her research into the species has subsequent unforeseen circumstances for herself and the rural town that she inhabits in this terse, psychological drama. Until Branches Bend examines the question of complicity and its impact on both a private and public sphere within a small town.

The difficulty of proving the existence of the invasive insect is not the only challenge facing Robin. Indeed, her boss dismisses her concern and retains custody of the insect species. She is also pregnant, which is contrasted with the notion of trying to control this insect invasion. The film subtly explores Robin’s attempts to control the changes within her body alongside trying to control the changes to her working situation. The parallels drawn out by Jarvis between the human life cycle and the evolution of the insect, via Robin’s choices, create a profound and fascinating observation within this slow-burn drama.

Director Sophie Jarvis uses a soft touch to demonstrate the small-town mentality and unintended consequences. Robin’s quest for answers and desire for her voice to be heard concerning the insect result in unforeseen circumstances for the town and her workplace. Yet under Jarvis’ lens such effect is never sensationalised and thus embraces the uncomfortable silence as the town’s animosity is directed towards Robin once their livelihood and economic interests are threatened. Jarvis’ preference in such moments to use minimal dialogue and to revel in the passive anger of the community is an effective tool. It relies on the simmering sentiments, long-angle cinematography, and tone to convey the hostility levelled towards Robin and amplifies the unease permeating the film. As such, in a public community meeting the level of emotion and tension is felt acutely with split editing between the townspeople and Robin.

Until Branches Bend examines the notion of the truth being the only perfect currency. Quite often people will extol the virtues of having freedom of speech and liberty which may unfortunately differ from reality, and truthful revelations may be quashed by workplace policies and corporate practices. Equally, Jarvis shines a critical lens on those farmers that are protective of the land generally but who are also seen to engage in hypocrisy when their own economic situation is at stake. One could argue that the film also causes inward reflection as to our own willingness to stand by our convictions.

Until Branches Bend is an impressive feature and provides a tour-de-force performance from Glowicki. She is awkward but also fearless and her performance elicits sympathy for her plight with sufficient nuance. Robin feels like the girl next door that is befriended by all but who, due to her unassuming nature, may also be rendered invisible.

As such, there is a sense that the discovery of the insect has provided Robin, unwittingly, with a vocal platform, as she is propelled into the spotlight but not necessarily on favourable terms. Jarvis convincingly conjures up comparisons to the times of judgement depicted in the Old Testament in terms of morality and the sense of a town suffering plague for being corrupt and morally bankrupt. Indeed, the film explores the larger-scale impact of a town’s secrets but also the willingness to turn upon one of their own to create a scapegoat and sacrificial lamb.

The film reveals the ease with which people may be reassured by a corporation’s spiel to avoid raising their head above the parapet to question unsavoury practices. The quickness and viciousness with which Robin is denounced also demonstrates Jarvis’ criticism of inward, parochial views observed within a small town. Until Branches Bend interweaves dreamlike, surreal sequences whilst still embedded within a grounded reality portraying a sense of beauty amidst the anxiety. There is a star-making performance from Glowicki in this thought-provoking, environmentalist drama that will create food for thought as we examine our relationship with the truth and our conscience on a macro level, and an assured, compelling and timely feature debut from Jarvis.