The official description for The Oxbow Cure is “When rivers meander and are sometimes cut off from their course, they form an oxbow lake”. So, nothing. Just a risky synopsis without plot, character descriptions or other standard elements. Going in is a gamble and for a while in the film’s early stages, because of its style and pace, it is extremely uncomfortable. It’s foreign to our bottle fed sense of film, but sticking with it reveals its genius.
Lena packs and attends a party and goes to a remote cottage on a lake in the depths of winter. She is completely alone, suffering from the pain of an unspecified illness, yet energized by the natural world. She takes photos, stares into the distance and just slows down and lives in the moment, quietly and appreciatively. Because of her physical exhaustion she can’t wander far into the woods, and spends much time in bed sleeping.
There is little communication with the outside. Lena visits an old man, apparently dying and dear to her, in a nearby home. Oddly there is Wi-Fi in the north Ontario woods and she communicates online with fellow sufferers, searching out cures for the pain.
One day looking out the window across the bay a strange dark figure appears and disappears. And this is where the sci-fi verging on, but not quite, horror, begins. The seamless change of tone is impressive, the film’s energy goes up and it blossoms, strange word to use but appropriate. It doesn’t change its core of meditative awareness; it simply adds colour and depth of feeling.
The shots are long and slow. The camera settles on scenes in nature and on Lena, the heroine in long dreamy sequences. The shots are often static mimicking the way it feels physically when you come into a remote, silent place in which thoughts are at their loudest. The viewer eventually acclimates into this place and into the film. The extreme care in shooting makes each frame a work of art and an extended internal conversation thought.
The Oxbow Cure has no actual dialogue, explanation or narration. It’s all pictures, beautiful, slow moving pictures and sounds coming from the elements from the wintry lake forest setting. Brilliantly curated emo music, an occasional speech fragment from a radio or a memory and the sounds of Lena, our heroine, crying has equal place with bird calls, crunching snow and ice and wind.
It’s a remarkable film that flies in the face of conventional storytelling and film. It’s a joy to watch and a truly moving experience that it feels as though we shared.
Cast: Claudia Dey, Grace Glowicki
Directed by: Yonah Lewis, Calvin Thomas
Top image: A scene from The Oxbow Cure. Courtesy TIFF