The Arbor

Critics Consensus

Smart and inventive, The Arbor offers some intensely memorable twists on tired documentary tropes.

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 46

74%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,279

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Movie Info

Instead if making a conventional documentary or adapting Dunbar's play The Arbor for the screen, director Clio Barnard has crafted a truly unique work that transcends genre and defies categorization. Following two years conducting audio interviews with Dunbar's family, friends and neighbors, Barnard filmed actors lip-synching the interviews, flawlessly interpreting every breath, tick and nuance. The film focuses in particular on the playwright's troubled relationship with her daughter Lorraine who was just 10 when her mother died. Barnard re-introduces Lorraine, to her mother's play and private letters, prompting her to reflect on the extraordinary parallels between their lives. Interwoven with these interviews are staged scenes of Dunbar's play filmed on The Arbor, the street where she lived. -- (C) Strand

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News & Interviews for The Arbor

Critic Reviews for The Arbor

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (16) | Fresh (44) | Rotten (2)

  • Documentaries often toy with the conventions of non-fiction storytelling to the detriment of their content, but Clio Barnard's innovative The Arbor provides a welcome exception to the norm.

    January 5, 2012 | Rating: A | Full Review…

    Eric Kohn

    indieWire
    Top Critic
  • Numerous celluloid experiments have fudged reality and fiction lately, but few are as formally inventive or socially revelatory as The Arbor.

    January 5, 2012 | Full Review…

    Ronnie Scheib

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • For the morbidly curious, it's mesmerizing. But it's also a singularly watchable story for the strange, and strangely fitting, way in which it's told.

    August 5, 2011 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • [An] exquisitely crafted docudrama.

    July 21, 2011 | Rating: 4/4
  • Barnard's boldest move is to unveil the irresponsible chaos of the playwright's private life, and to make us wonder if the art was worth the suffering, after all.

    May 2, 2011 | Full Review…
  • Brings the Dunbar story to life through a technique known as "verbatim theater," in which actors lip-synch testimony from the real people they're portraying.

    April 27, 2011 | Rating: A-

    Scott Tobias

    AV Club
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Arbor

  • Jan 21, 2012
    Extraordinary. Landmark filmmaking. Review soon.
    Daniel P Super Reviewer
  • Sep 05, 2011
    I'll bet you've never seen a documentary quite like "The Arbor." In this movie, ostensibly about the late playwright Andrea Dunbar, it has actors lip-synching testimony given by friends and relatives. But the story does not stop with her death, as it continues with her three children, especially the oldest, Lorraine, whose father is of Pakistani origin at a time when racism was particularly virulent. Actually, "The Arbor" is an incisive documentary about how much a person's life is defined by their environment and how they are raised. There is plenty of archival footage comparing the poverty strewn streets of Andrea's time to the present, along with scenes peformed outside there from one of her plays carried out in front of an appreciative audience. It was presumed by outsiders with the success she had that she would use it to escape but she never did make it out, spending much of her free time in the local pub. When it came to her three children, two would go on to live apparently stable lives. It is Lorraine that has the troubled life of tragedy, as sexual abuse is mentioned also.
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • Jun 05, 2011
    Sort of documentary with lip-syncing actors over real voices, scenes played out on a council estate and news clips about the life and times of Andrea Dunbar, a "genius from the slums" and author of THE ARBOR and RITA,SUE & BOB TOO. She wrote her first play, which was performed at the Royal Court Theatre London, when she was just 15, and she died at 29 in the local pub, leaving three kids from three diferent dads to grow up as best they can (and in one case, not very well at all). Absolutely rivetting, especially if you don't know the story. Very recommended.
    Lesley N Super Reviewer
  • Apr 05, 2011
    Unique documentary uses actors lip syncing subjects' words to create a chilling portrait of a vicious cycle of generational despair. A mother and a daughter's downward spirals are mirrored in each other. One an unlikely playwright, the other unwanted and out of place. It's original style gives a searing glimpse into cycles of self destruction and how it affects successive generations.
    Matthew L Super Reviewer

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