Words: Saam Das // 'The Arbor' (UK Release: 14 March '11)
Clio Barnard's gripping debut feature film 'The Arbor' was applauded upon its UK theatrical release last year, resulting in a BAFTA nomination and an award at the British Independent Film Awards. 'The Arbor' delivers an intimate portrayal of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar and her immediate family, in the time before and after her death at just 29 years old.
Dunbar wrote her first play, also entitled 'The Arbor', while still at school and followed up with her best known work, the 1986 film 'Rita, Sue And Bob Too' - which she wrote the screenplay for. Dunbar's pieces were largely autobiographical, related to her upbringing on the tough Buttershaw estate in Bradford.
Barnard also grew up in Bradford and sought to examine the contrast between the Buttershaw estate of today and its counterpart from thirty years ago, using the Dunbar family as a framework. However, as the film progresses, Barnard's focus shifts more closely to the story on Dunbar's eldest daughter Lorraine, uncovering a depressingly cyclical bleakness - failed relationships, unwanted children and substance abuse blighted both Andrea and Lorraine.
'The Arbor' employs an innovative narrative technique of using recorded interviews of the family members, which are then lip-synched by actors. This technique is complemented by the use of archive footage and extracts of a live performance of Dunbar's play, 'The Arbor', which was filmed on the Buttershaw estate itself.
The composite view formed from the different elements give the viewer something of a bitter taste of the difficulties of living on the Buttershaw estate thirty years ago, while also illustrating the afflictions of the Dunbar family, particularly Andrea and Lorraine. Not the jolliest of subject matters.
Billed as a "unique celebration of Andrea Dunbar's life", 'The Arbor' emerges as more of a bleak tale of the dwindling life of Dunbar's eldest daughter, Lorraine. An engrossing docu-drama but also a bitterly sad pill to swallow.
Director: Clio Barnard
Cast: Manjinder Virk, Christine Bottomley, Monica Dolan, Jimi Mistry
- 'Road Race', a short film by Barnard
'The Arbor' is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Purchase at Amazon.co.uk.