High in the tranquil wilderness of the Catskills, a small settlement sits: a quiet and peaceful place of reflection and healing. The air is fresh, the foliage is lush and green, the comforting walls of finely milled wood are warm and inviting. The atmosphere is serene, almost Zen, a meditative place to slow down and escape a bustling, stressful life, evaluating the many struggles and burdens we carry with us day to day. Surrounded by nature, still waters and gentle breezes, the sun shining dusty beams of light through slats of wood, four people reflect and externalize, voicing bottled up emotions and pent-up frustrations. Through quiet exchanges, peaceful confrontations and everyday interactions, each individual slowly grows and evolves, forging a new path or laying a new foundation for their current one.
Finding their relationships on rocky ground within the demanding chaos of city life, The Land of Owls follows two couples escaping to a country retreat in an effort to reconcile their differences and understand each other better. Theo and Julia wrestle with disconnect and mismatched ambition, while Chord and Jean battle insecurity and a desperate need for clarity between them. Patrick Letterii’s film is a highly intimate one, layered with grounded realism and improvisational, natural dialogue that flows like an open therapy session. Reflective of the personal nature of the film, as Letterii shares his own love and connection to the region, everything is directed with a light touch and a gentle familiarity, displaying a comfort with the space. Upon this fertile groundwork, the film grows from its seeds: stretching towards the sky with a bright hopefulness. Like birds above, watching on, we witness our protagonists: two couples both struggling with their own myriad of relationship woes and intimacy issues. For some, their roots grow closer and weave together, and for others it all begins to lose grip. Tranquillity and true reflection provide a vast perspective that opens doors to re-evaluation from all, certain outcomes feeling more destructive for some while being bold and affirming to others.
Nona Catusanu’s warm photography is beautifully inviting throughout, placing characters in deep reflection at the mercy of nature’s ancient presence. The land of the owls is a place where nature takes precedence, a return to something simpler where only direct connection matters and everything else melts away. The days are flooded with vibrant, healing greens and the nights are marked by relaxing blues and purples; beautiful sunsets highlight faces as the sun disappears beneath the horizon. Just as a session of counselling would urge you to focus on each individual’s every word, every spoken line is framed with precise intent, pushing you to listen to everyone’s words carefully, just as the characters learn to do throughout the film.
The film maintains its stark beauty and comforting atmosphere throughout, but through all its heavy contemplation on love, life, lust, sex, and commitment, it seems to leave a piece behind. In the midst of every collaborator’s immense delivery of heart, it seems to get lost within what that’s all in service of. Within a series of perfectly delivered particular moments our characters speak their truth; but, as their relationships develop from these discussions, the viewer is left behind. Its improvisational nature delivers such specificity that it struggles to apply to a larger theme or ideal. It’s therapy for characters who we only know in a therapeutic context; so, further than a pleasant respect for what they learn throughout, there’s little investment in the outcomes. As it grows more and more intimate, it begins to feel intrusive, in a way, almost invading on these people’s privacy. It’s a double-edged sword that works and fails simultaneously. While there’s a degree of almost projecting its therapy onto you – as you’re granted almost ASMR-adjacent dialogue that quietly reminds you to listen, to truly understand someone’s honesty – it also gets so lost in the minutia that it almost seems like it would better to just go have a conversation.
And maybe that’s what we should all take away from The Land of Owls. A thought to take with us that we could all benefit from the safe space of therapy and the comfort of a respectful discussion. A reminder that we all deserve to be listened to, to have our voices heard by our loved ones and to exist in relationships that constantly lift each other up rather than weigh each other down. That’s all anyone wants, isn’t it? To be heard? To feel like their words matter, like their thoughts mean enough to be cared about and attuned to. If that’s what The Land of Owls can give us, maybe we can all heal a little bit. For most, it might just get too lost in itself for that message to translate to the audience with the same clarity with which it affects the characters.