Contains mild spoilers
The Arbor tells the story of the late playwright Andrea Dunbar and her story up until her early death at 29. The film plays in a documentary format with recreations of her play The Arbor in between and it is in here that we really get a sense of just how autobiographical the play is. It is made well enough that we do not think it is interchanging quickly between these scenes that were difficult to watch further into the film given the continued context being made. Even halfway into the film I felt connected with it and didn't feel too rushed given the quite short run time. The rest of the film revolved around interviews with the people in her life, revolving round her family and portions of people on the estate. Even though actors were used on film they are actually lip syncing actual words spoken, a clever technique as it allowed them to open up more and made those words powerful. However it should not be expected that the film is all about Dunbar and does shift focus onto her children especially her daughter Lorraine who went through a traumatic time as a mixed race person growing up in a racially intolerant estate. Her story becomes just as relevant as Andrea's the more you hear about it. I was actually at a Q&A session with director Clio Barnard and this was highly intentional. The film was shot cleverly without being in a conventional documentary format with characters talking directly to camera. Real eye contact is made with the audience in this respect resonating even though it is played by actors.
In summary though this film is a difficult watch and I've only really scratched the surface in terms of what the film portrays. Really do check it out as it is a really moving story that stays in the mind greatly afterwards.
Biography / Documentary / Drama
Biography / Documentary / Drama
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Portrayal of the late Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar.
Uploaded by: FREEMAN
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Bold, unconventional and emotional till the very end
Contains mild spoilers
Documentary and realism seamlessly blend in the portrait of a working-class playwright
Location shots, real people, and actors are deployed in a seamless amalgam in this recollection of of the talented but short-lived alcoholic working-class playwright Andrea Dunbar, from Bradford, West Yorkshire. Filmmaker Clio Barnard first spent two years recording interviews with Dunbar's family and friends,. Then she staged actors lip-synching the interviews as monologues, sometimes in a group scene -- a technique known as "verbatim theater" that arguably works more seamlessly because of Bernard's use of filmed settings. Barnard also staged parts of one of Dunbar's plays out near "The Arbor," ther part of the Yorkshire housing estate where Dunbar grew up and of which her plays speak. This is also the name of Dunbar's first play. Another one, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, was made into a reportedly excellent film. After a while, thanks in part to the excellent editing of Ole Birekland, you don't know who's the real person and who's an actor (because vintage footage of the people is there too). This creates a kind of Brechtian "Alienation Effect" that paradoxically makes it all more real and memorable. In the course of compensating mentally for shifts of format and perspective, you wind up projecting yourself into Andrea Dunbar's world.
It's a tough trip. Dunbar grew up in the Butterfield Estates during the decline of the textile mills, writing her first play at fifteen. She was already experiencing the prevailing racism, alcoholism and domestic violence. Eventually, by the time she died at 29 of a cerebral hemorrhage, she'd had become a heavy drinker and had three children by three different fathers. The eldest, Lorraine, played here by the sad- eyed, insinuating Manjinder Virk, was a dark-skinned, pretty girl whose dad was of Pakistani origin. She was to write no plays, but otherwise would duplicate her mother's unfortunate model of children by different fathers, drug addiction instead of alcoholism, and imprisonment for the causing the death of her child by extreme negligence.
Editing is a key factor here, but all elements are so smoothly handled you become unaware of the many layers and modes at work. Over-titles identifying the main speakers when the first appear also help to create the desired confusion. In news footage where the family is interviewed after Andrea's first London success, her real dad bears a quite striking resemblance to the father in the staged play. At the play, many people, presumably current residents of the estates, stand around to watch -- another way boundaries are broken. Ronnie Schieb calls this "a must-see entry in the ongoing evolution of cinematic formalism," but this "formally inventive" and "socially revelatory" exploration, neither formal nor abstract in the playing out, never seems anything but real, down to the sometimes almost impenetrable accents of the recorded speakers whose voices flow through the scenes. Very good foreground and ambient sound contributes to the seamless effect, of course. Credit here to Dolby Digital sound designer Tim Barker and re-recording mixer Richard Davey.
There is a Rashomon-like aspect as one gradually watches Andreas's story unfold from multiple sources, including the various fathers of her children, and the most personal moments come with Lorraine's unfolding confessions. As Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote about the film last spring, Barnard's "technique produces a hyperreal intensification of the pain in Dunbar's work and in her life," and this pain becomes most vivid as we realize that in Lorraine's life Andrea's tragedy "was replicated, almost genetically." Bradshaw makes another good point: Dunbar's story, and her success as a teenage playwright in Max Stafford-Clark's Royal Court, challenges a lot of what we assume about gritty realist theatre or literature from the tough north," because the plays are usually produced "by men whose gender privileges are reinforced by university." They become stories of how they got out. But Dunbar never got out.
The Arbor, Barnard's debut feature, got a raft of nominations at BAFTA and the London Critics Circle, and two actual awards, one at Sheffield's documentary festival (Innovation Award) and the British Independent Film award for Best Achievement in Production. It's not a cheerful watch, but it's a very compelling one and a remarkable accomplishment by Clio Bernard -- as well as by the principal actors, Manjinder Virk, Christine Bottomley, Neil Dudgeon, Monica Dolan, Danny Webb, Kathryn Pogson, Natalie Gavin, Jonathan Haynes, Jimi Mistry, George Costigan. Try as you may, you will not spot their lips out of sync.
The 94-minute The Arbor won Barnard a best new documentary filmmaker prize at 2010's year's Tribeca Film Festival. It will get a theatrical U.S. release by Strand in April 2011. Seen and reviewed as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 2011.
I loved everything about this sad film.
The technique of post syncing shouldn't have worked, nor the acting of the play on the streets either, but they really do.
The pacing of the original interviews is very interesting,very steady. There is something marvellous about the way the accents are subtly yet profoundly different from those that actors generally impose, and knowing that these voices are those of the actual people was very moving.
Seeing the real people in what would normally have been flashback but in this case is views into a previous documentary really worked.
This is a very powerful story of a tragedy with very little joy. When I see Rita, Sue and Bob Too again, one of my favourite films and one that puts most other working class depictions into a cocked hat, I wonder what my mood will be.