Melissa Anderson for Artforum: "After last year's glut of bumptious, high-profile nonfiction films — some of which were revealed to be hoaxes (Casey Affleck's I'm Still Here), possible hoaxes (Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop), or artless, witless pseudohoaxes (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's Catfish) — Clio Barnard's Brechtian documentary The Arbor stands out all the more for its seamless hybridization of fact and fiction. Barnard, an artist making her feature-length directorial debut, traces the troubled life and legacy of British playwright Andrea Dunbar (1961–1990), whose highly autobiographical work chronicled her grim existence on the Bradford, West Yorkshire, council estate where she grew up. (And which she never left: Dunbar died of a brain hemorrhage at age 29, shortly after collapsing at her local pub.) Though widely acclaimed for her three plays — her first, The Arbor, premiered in 1980 at London's Royal Court Theatre; her second, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, was made into a film by Alan Clarke in 1986 — Dunbar succumbed to chronic alcoholism and bore three children by three different, often psychotically violent, men. The fallout from Dunbar's fame and self-destruction for her family, particularly her firstborn, Lorraine, becomes the transfixing through line of Barnard's film — one that the director develops using a deliberate distancing device that, paradoxically, draws viewers in even closer."
"Dunbar's brief life and career had inspired a play by Robin Soans, A State Affair, staged at the Royal Court in 2000, that employed a technique known as verbatim theater, which uses interview transcripts as raw material," explains Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "Ms Barnard, who had experimented with forms of testimony in her early work, became intrigued by the prospect of using this ventriloquist method in a movie. 'In the theater it's kind of documentary,' she said during an interview [in Columbia, MO], referring to the immediacy often associated with verbatim theater. 'But in cinema it does the opposite and draws your attention to the illusion.'"
Bill Weber, writing in Slant, is not convinced: "[T]he choice should seem inevitable to be fully defensible; it doesn't. While the cast's miming is scarcely perceptible and doesn't preclude engaged, empathetic work, particularly by [Manjinder] Virk [who plays Lorraine] and Christine Bottomley as her more resilient sister, the art-film framing and slow pans across the council estate's facades often battle the power of documentary soundtrack rather than add to it."
More from Julien Allen (Reverse Shot), Mark Asch (L), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), J Hoberman (Voice, where Nicolas Rapold gets a few words with Barnard), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 4/5) and Scott Tobias (AV Club, A-). Interviews with Barnard: Damon Smith (Filmmaker) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail). At Film Forum through May 10. Earlier: Adrian Curry on the posters. Update, 4/29: Craig Hubert interviews Barnard via email for the BOMBlog.
MORE NYC EVENTS
Tonight at City Winery, Anthology Film Archives hosts "the most eclectically cool public event taking place in the city this spring," declares Cinespect's Ryan Wells. The 2011 Preservation Honors and 40th Anniversary Benefit Concert will feature performances and appearances by Harmony Korine, Marina Abramovic, Ólöf Arnalds, Transgendered Jesus and more. Host Jonas Mekas will speak, while Richard Barone will serve as MC. Terence Teh interviews Mekas for Dazed.
Also in Cinespect, BL Hazelwood: "Forging itself in 1979 on the heels of the revolutionary revitalization of German cinema in the 60s and 70s known as Das Neue Kino (New German Cinema), the Museum of Modern Art's homage to contemporary German cinema entitled Kino: New Films from Germany has endured the years by keeping an informed ear on the streets strictly charged with finding the chosen few within Germany's annual cinematic production. These days, 32 years after the inaugural survey, this broad, but still meticulous, challenge is singularly informed by the aesthetic appetite and decisiveness of one Larry Kardish, Senior Curator in MoMA's Department of Film." And yes, that's a segue into an interview. The series opens with How to Make a Book with Steidl, a doc on publisher Gerhard Steidl (Dan Wagstaff has the trailer) and the New York premiere of Tom Tykwer's Three. Through Monday.
The Far Side of Paradise: New Films From Norway opens this afternoon at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, runs through May 4, and features a tribute to Edith Carlmar, who, notes the FSLC's Michael Gibbons, "was not only Norway's first female director, but she made what is considered to be country's first film noir (Death Is a Caress) and introduced the great actress Liv Ullmann to audiences around the world with The Wayward Girl (1960). All of her films were box-office hits, which means she is one of the most successful directors in Norwegian history."
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