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The Arbor - Movie Review of The Arbor - 2009

Acting Out Andrea Dunbar's Hard Life

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The Arbor - Movie Review of The Arbor - 2009

Scene from Andrea Dunbar's play, 'The Arbor,' staged in the documentary about her life and work.

Artangel Media
In The Arbor, London-based artist Clio Bernard uses an unusual, fascinating and effective amalgam of documentary and narrative styles to tell the story of Andrea Dunbar (May 22, 1961 - December, 20 1990), the gifted English working class playwright who wrote three autobiographical plays before she died at age 29 of an alcohol-related brain hemorrhage.

Blurring the Lines Between Documentary and Narrative

In her first documentary feature, Bernard experiments with nonfiction form, using actors to lip sync to audio-only recordings of interviews she'd made with Andrea Dunbar's surviving family and the circle of acquaintances who knew her and shared her difficult circumstances in "The Arbor," a tough working poor 'estate' neighborhood of Bradford in the North of England. The effect of the perfect lip syncing is eerie, especially since the entire film was shot on location in Bradford, at the very places frequented by Dunbar and her circle.

Dunbar was an alcoholic. She had three children, each fathered by a different man.

You won't recognize most of the actors, except perhaps for Jimi Mistry, who plays Yousaf, the father of Dunbar's eldest daughter.

Inter-cut with the reenacted interviews about Dunbar are archival clips Dunbar herself, conducted when her plays were performed at London's Royal Court Theater, where she was championed by director Max Stafford-Clark, whose audio interview is also lip synced in the film.

Bernard also stages scenes from Dunbar's first play, entitled The Arbor, in the open air, on the streets of Dunbar's neighborhood, with local residents looking on.

The result is a fascinating montage of reality and reenactment that reveals the inner truths of Dunbar's life and work, shows the living conditions of the working class poor in the north of England and gives rise to contemplation of the importance of artistic expression.

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Film Details:

  • Title: The Arbor
  • Director: Clio Bernard
  • Release Date: October 22, 2010 (United Kingdom)
  • Running Time: 90 mins.
  • Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
  • Location: Bradford, England
  • Language: English
  • Production Company: Artangel Media
  • Distribution Company: Strand Releasing
  • Trailer

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