The Arbor

The Arbor ★★★★

A heartbreaking depiction of the "black hole" of poverty, and of the generational echoes of tragedy that black hole can create. I think it's smart to make this as much about Andrea's children as it is about Andrea herself; we'll never truly be able to know Andrea Dunbar, all we can do is speculate on her struggles based on the work she left behind, of her failures and successes in her personal life, and about how her life's tragedy echoed through the lives of her three children. For one brief moment, Dunbar managed to be heard through her plays, before the culture around her, her addiction, and the poverty endemic to her life consumed her. That culture, and the societal forces that created it, didn't go away with Andrea Dunbar, there was just one less voice trying to make us aware of it.

A few words on the film's central aesthetic gamble (having actor's lipsync to real interviews): I think it works because it offers a layer of remove from the very difficult subject matter that keeps the film itself from feeling too directly exploitative. The problem with any film dealing with this kind of material is that it's too easy to use the suffering of its' subjects as a way to rub the audience's noses in shit. That is, for every Dardenne brother's movie there are ten "Precious"es, movies that weaponize the struggles of the poor in order to bolster their own claims to seriousness. By keeping us one step removed from the story on display, Bernard narrowly avoids that trap; what we are watching is always a recreation, and we (or at least I) are always aware it's a recreation. Every movie, even documentaries, have authorial bias, "The Arbor" is just more forward about making us aware of that fact. It helps that the film never gets too cute about it; it makes you aware of its' artifice up front, then just lets the story play out. That story is worth telling, and I'm glad "The Arbor" attempts to tell it without making false claims of objectivity about itself in the process.

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