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Bearer of Bad News

Until-branches-bend-movie-review-grace-glowicki
Courtesy of TIFF

MOVIE REVIEW
Until Branches Bend (2022)

Robin (Grace Glowicki) is in her 20s and works as a grader at the fruit factory in town. It’s one of the best jobs going locally; and she is proud to do it, and takes it seriously. She lives with her younger sister Laney (Alexandra Roberts), who dates the rich boys for whom a summer of physical labor is a fun escape. Robin dates men who are married. There’s Jay (Paul Kular), with whom she is forever having arguments in parking lots; and there’s factory management Dennis (Lochlyn Munro, excellent as the bland, depersonalized face of corporate evil). As a grader, it’s Robin’s job to give the fruit the final once-over before putting them into the punnets which go to the shops. In one fruit she notices a kind of beetle. Not on the fruit – in the fruit. She has the presence of mind to go on break before taking a few photos and bringing the evidence to Dennis. She’s worried this is an early harbinger of an infestation, the kind that can ruin an entire crop and throw the whole valley out of work. The kind of modern-day plague that can cause your parents to lose their farm and hasten their deaths and leave someone living alone with their sister. Dennis reassures her he will handle it, but Robin already knows about the lies married men can tell.

Writer-director Sophie Jarvis, who has worked extensively as a production designer and made several shorts before this, has made a terrific no-budget movie filmed entirely on location that the Toronto International Film Festival did well to support. The question is whether one sharp-eyed young woman’s sense of right and wrong will be able to sound the alarm about a natural disaster in time. If that wasn’t pressure enough, Robin realizes she is pregnant. It’s unhappy news, and whatever happens it’s going to be expensive. The nearest abortion clinic is several hours’ drive away, which costs gas money on top of the missed days at work to get there and back, never mind the price of the procedure itself. Meanwhile Laney is doing migrant labor with slumming rich kids who see the rural towns they’re passing through as anthropological case studies, where they can break into empty houses to sneer at the locals and party without consequence. Fortunately Laney has a feeling for self-preservation maybe Robin doesn’t. The bigger picture of what that beetle means is something most people in the area would prefer to ignore. But since Robin found it, she can’t let it go.

“Until Branches Bend” is unusual both in its respect for hard work and its no-comment attitude toward the educated middle-class types who think they’re hiding their contempt for the workers who do the hard work. Sure, Robin only graduated high school; but despite very few people caring enough to tell, she’s not stupid, and she’s adamant on doing the right thing. And in the smartest move of all for a movie set in rural Canada, Dennis’s wife, Isabelle (Quelemia Sparrow), is indigenous, meaning that when rich white people stomp all over local knowledge and insight for their own ends, she takes it personally. That’s even before she realizes how wrapped up in all this Dennis is. Indirectly Isabelle and Robin begin working together to make the community realize the danger they’re in – not that anyone wants to, of course. Should the town really risk its entire livelihood over one single stupid bug? But what are they risking if they don’t?

Ms. Glowicki is building the kind of indie-princess career, as a triple-threat actress-writer-director, that Greta Gerwig did before she vaulted to the big time. But while Ms. Gerwig was more emotionally open (and naked) in her mumblecore roles, even in the ones with abortion subplots, here Ms. Glowicki projects a contained sense of self that draws audience interest in. You lean towards her to figure out what is going on. For the most part cinematographer Jeremy Cox hangs back and films in a style which lets the community speak for itself – every extra who appears on screen is named in the credits – giving a sense of ordinary realism supported by the cheap clothes, houses which need a lick of paint, and cars that haven’t been washed lately. The risk Robin is taking in speaking out is obvious, but the risk to everyone if she doesn’t, well it doesn’t bear thinking of. This is a wonderful and clever movie about the cost of doing the right thing. It should buy everyone involved their own ticket to the big time.

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