DIY Cannes 2013: The Arbor

the-arbor01-LST079362To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Movie #4: The Arbor (2010)

Director: Clio Barnard

Her Cannes 2013 Movie: The Selfish Giant

Since this whole DIY festival is to increase my own awareness of world cinema, I need to confess another blind spot: documentaries. For the past couple of months I’ve been trying to watch at least one documentary every week. Netflix Instant has an amazing repository of many of the most famous documentaries of all time – Grizzly Man, Man on Wire, Hoop Dreams, The Thin Blue Line – and that’s just off the top of my head. In order to sneak a couple of documentaries into this festival however, I needed to look outside of Netflix for this one.

And I am glad I did. This odd little curio is a depiction of the life of Andrea Dunbar, a famous playwright of whom I had never heard. Well, to be more accurate, it looks at how her life affected her daughters Lorraine and Lisa. The catch, which I’m sure you’ve heard about by now, is that the audio track for the movie consists of original recordings of Andrea, her daughters, and a performance of her play. The catch is that the people you see on screen are actors lip-synching to the audio track. Whether this is still a documentary or not is someone else’s problem. What it does for the film is mine.

And I think it only enhances the film. We are able to get these incredibly haunting reenactments that don’t feel at all like reenactments. A couple of times you even forget that the voices don’t match up with the people. It all heightens the mood, makes everything feel risky and fantastic, yet it’s all grounded in a poor British neighborhood.

The scenes of where Dunbar’s play the Arbor is produced are set outside, on the lawn, with all of their neighbors watching. At first I thought, “Oh it’s a documentary and the neighbors came to watch.” But did they? Were they part of the scene too? The audience? What are we watching?

As the movie repeatedly asks these questions in a thousand different ways, the story unfolding is entirely compelling on its own. Andrea’s struggle with alcohol and racism, Lorraine’s struggle with an abusive mother, Lisa’s struggle with a wayward sister, all set against this dreamy atmosphere.

I have an easy time liking a documentary and a hard time loving one. So many I just see as a collection of talking heads, and maybe they have huge real world resonance, I rarely feel the need to see them again. I plan on re-watching The Arbor almost as soon as this competition is over.


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