Canadian filmmaker Sophie Jarvis takes inspiration from her childhood in Okanagan, B.C. as she explores the concept of invasion in the drama Until Branches Bend, starring Grace Glowicki and premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Until Branches Bend is largely centred around Robin (Glowicki), a grader at a canning factory, which employs almost everyone in the town. During a shift, Robin discovers a bug inside a peach. She tries to alert her boss to no avail, but she keeps trying to sound the alarm bell until, eventually, the entire factory is shut down, causing economic concerns and distress for the whole town, and putting a target on Robin’s back.
“We shot in a place called Summerland, which is in the Okanagan in B.C. where my mom grew up, so my grandparents actually have been living there for the last 50, 60 years,” Jarvis told Yahoo Canada. “It’s a really beautiful place, it's very idyllic. I would grow up going to visit them several times a year and I was always really taken with just the quaintness of the community in the summertime, especially when there was just this total abundance of fruit, and the lake and the green grass.
“I was really inspired by the landscape of this place that felt very near to me, and I guess I was just [thinking], 'What can be going on under the surface of such a perfect place?' So, my mum actually used to work in a fruit packing house and she would tell me stories about that, and I was just thinking about that as a setting, as well. The idea of a bug, to me, is quite interesting, it's very small but it causes a lot of chaos, so there's something that I really liked about that visual.”
Her pregnancy isn't 'as big of a deal as her personal struggle'
While dealing with the stress of finding this bug, with many in the town trying to disprove her discovery, Robin is also seemingly growing apart from her sister, Laney (Alexandra Roberts), whom she lives with. She is also managing a pregnancy, which occurred from an affair with her married boss, Dennis (Lochlyn Munro), and battling personal and bureaucratic barriers to abortion.
While an employee, specifically a woman, having an affair with her male boss may seem like a story we've all seen many times before, the way Sophie Jarvis includes it in this story is interesting because the focus is truly on Robin's internal struggle, not really the relationship itself.
When it came to establishing that relationship, it’s never explicitly stated that Robin’s boss is the father of her unborn child, which Jarvis found created an interesting gender divide for viewers of her film.
“I never wanted the relationship to seem non-consensual,” Jarvis explained. “Ultimately, what I wanted to do was show that this is not really a film about an affair or about a man. It's a film about a woman who happens to be seeking an abortion and the circumstances of her pregnancy aren't as big of a deal as her personal struggle to end the pregnancy.”
“I found that while we were going through the cuts, a lot of men didn't know who the father was and they were really fixated on knowing who the father was. But women all knew who it was ... There's this very surprising gender divide that came out of it. I don't know if it still exists. I'm curious to see now that the film's complete and playing, if people are still going to be questioning that, but it was really interesting to me to see who cared a lot about the paternity of the child.”
Jarvis added that the imbalance of power between Robin and Dennis, in particular, was something she wanted to display, in addition to the power of desire.
“I think that there's a lot of power in desire and I think it's a very human thing to want to be desired or to have a desire," Jarvis said.
“Whatever happened between them, we don't have to explore, we don't have to see it, but I do think it's believable that two people might have a situation like that happen, based on the fact that maybe they feel attracted to someone simply because they are desired by that person ... I just feel like that element isn't talked about enough — women wanting to be desired, or acting on that.”
'I was just sort of trying to tell a story'
While Sophie Jarvis wrote the first draft of the script about six years ago, environmental concerns, invasions, quarantines and abortion rights are more topical than ever.
“I think what was really interesting and kind of scary for me was seeing how a lot of those themes are really coming to light, especially with climate change, ... and of course, this idea of a quarantine and everything getting shut down because of this one thing,” Jarvis said. “I wasn't trying to make a movie about a hot topic, I was just sort of trying to tell a story.”
“There are different invasions happening in the film. One is the bug, the other is her unwanted pregnancy and her inability to have any agency over her own body because of bureaucratic issues. Then another, also, is just this idea of monoculture, ... so this idea of just what does it mean to have generations and generations of a farming community where everything is based on this one industry, but it's also on land that wasn't really supposed to host that type of fruit at that scale. The Indigenous landscape is largely unaffected by the bug, whereas the settler landscape is.”
Watching Until Branches Bend is a very sensory experience. The use of different perspectives in Jarvis’s filmmaking visually, the sounds used to really emphasize a buildup of tension and uncomfortableness, is one aspect of this movie that makes it unique.
“I write a lot of those sounds and visuals into the script,” Jarvis said. “I'll have people tell me that when they read the script, they can really feel it, ... things like the dog's toenails on the floor. I write that stuff and people always bring up that detail with me where they're like, ‘Oh, I knew exactly what this dog was,’... everyone knows the sound of an old dog's toenails on a floor.
“My background as a production designer, working with the production designer and the art team to sort of talk about, what are the common themes that we can all share with each other so that we're all on the same page as early as possible. So things like, something being below the surface, finding textures, being able to shoot through dirty windows, finding a way to translate that to set design or how to translate that with how we are doing our composition.”
For people who watch Until Branches Bend, Jarvis explained that she’d like people to think about the theme of “invasion” differently.
“I'm just trying to show what real struggles there are in a speculative situation, so I'm hoping that when people watch it, that they can find something to relate to within it,” Jarvis said. “I would like people to consider the theme of invasion as something that isn't necessarily outwardly violent or visible, and to think about the different ways that invasions happen in our day to day lives.”