The purpose of therapy is to take you out of your comfort zone and thus force the person engaging in treatment to consider everything they do and have done. To that end, The Land of Owls, written and directed by Patrick Leterii, is an engaging, minimalist weekend trip into couples’ therapy.
Julia (Emma Duncan), Theo (David Rysdahl), Gene (Ricardo Davila), and Cord (Ronald Peet) are Brooklynites who find themselves in the rural Catskills at a lodge devoted to honest communication between partners. We witness the difficulties in each relationship through their attempts at intimacy. Julia does not care to be touched, and Theo is very touchy-feely. Conversely, Gene would like to be gently strangled as foreplay, which irks Cord something fierce.
We also witness Gene as an introverted, introspective type, whereas Cord is strongly extroverted. Julia is a perfectionist who is not prepared to present her great musical composition. Any casual observer will let her know the work is great, but still, she feels the need to tinker with it. So much so in fact that she tends to neglect and ignore Theo. With the bucolic nature of the Catskills as a background and interspersed with lovely snippets of poetry, we witness one of these relationships strengthen and the other dissolve.
“…find themselves in the rural Catskills at a lodge devoted to honest communication between partners.”
The Land of Owls feels like a Ralph Waldo Emerson retreat. There in the mighty woods of the Catskills, the poet/philosopher and his followers would meet to discover themselves. Indeed, Julia learns hippies came here in the 1970s and formed a community similar to the transcendentalists. They referred to themselves as the Owls.
The beautiful surroundings of the Catskills in summer lend themselves to natural lighting. To shoot a film there in the most rustic part of New York state was an inspired decision. This is the sort of location that lends itself quite well to discovering your true self, whoever that may be. The music, although electronic, lends its ambient beats and pulses well to the experience of therapy. It’s slightly discomfiting, yet it breathes deeply with life, just as our therapy subjects are encouraged to do. While the treatment begins as a weekend retreat, Julia, Theo, Gene, and Cor learn it can go for as long as the participants wish to stay. There is a permissiveness to discovering your true self that’s refreshing. The country setting allows for getting to know people in a way living in a city never would.
Letterii’s script and direction are solid. The acting is fantastic. The poetry is both winsome and deep. It presages the loss that will be experienced by the time The Land of Owls fades to black. At their best, independent movies transport you to a real place you’ve never been before and provide you with an experience that seems uncanny yet wonderful. Seek this film out as it’s very good.
"…seek this film out as it's very good."