Art and Reality in The Arbor (2010)

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This article offers an in-depth analysis of 2010 British film The Arbor by Clio Barnard. The director’s debut feature is a groundbreaking work dedicated to the lives of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her eldest daughter Lorraine. Dunbar grew up in the Buttershaw Estate in Bradford and drew on her own experiences to write her first play The Arbor at the age of 15, followed by Rita, Sue and Bob Too!. She struggled with alcoholism and died of a brain haemorrhage in 1990, at the age of 29. Lorraine’s life followed down a difficult path as she became a drug addict and was jailed for manslaughter for causing the death of her two-year old child by gross neglect. My aim is to explore how the film combines different media, namely theatre, television and radio, in a cinematic experience defined by multiple registers and multiple voices, and how this structure works towards creating as much as conserving individual and collective memories, highlighting the fictional nature of memories. This leads to a reflection on the lip-synching technique, employed as the main vehicle for memory in the film, which provokes as much empathy and compassion as it does critical thinking, thus turning Brecht’s binary equation reason-emotion in its head.1

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