The Arbor, The Selfish Giant and Clio Barnard

Clio Barnard

I was fortunate enough to attend Clio Bernard’s lecture on her work the other day, she truly shows the promising signs of a filmmaker who understands their vision and has the passion, tenacity and talent to contribute a thorough standpoint in cinema. Her first two films have been seminal works in the last few years of British film, gaining Clio multiple awards internationally and 2 BAFTA nominations for the outstanding debut category.

Clio’s underlying themes of memory, authenticity and imagination are rich from the outset, although masked in the provincial poverty and the battle of human life that she so credibly conceives. The Arbor is her first feature length piece of work that simulates layers of reality to a shattering and enthralling effect. It is raw and lucid, and some critics have complained of its downward spiral of depression and heartache, at times there is little space for breath. Yet, on the contrary, Clio utilises innovative filmmaking tools to remind the viewer that this is simply a retelling of a story that is being remembered in more ways than one. There is the simulation of Andrew Dunbar’s play acted out in the estate yard; there is the reflection of Dunbar’s family (of authentic voices lip-synced to actors – a magical feat and by no means obtrusive), the fictionalised reenactment of events and the factual archive footage of interviews with Andrea herself. It is a true expression of Brechtian technique (from the epic theatre) and thus a remarkably fresh insight into the documentary form and the form of cinematic expression itself.

The selfish giant

Following on from this great success, Clio emerged with another tale of heartache and grief imaginatively interpreted from Oscar Wilde’s fable The Selfish Giant. Clio also drew inspiration from The Arbor and the cycle of power and greed constructed within working-class Yorkshire (Bradford). The poor are undermined by society and the audience innately experiences the cycle of poverty through the young eyes of a 14 year old boy (ironically called Arbor) trying to make ends meet for his detached and deprived family. It is a striking film with beautiful and sometimes magical cinematography, powerful and admirable acting and, of course, the instinctive and precise direction of Clio.

Clio came from a background in fine art and it was her sequential drawings that drew her to the cinematic form. She became interested in what it would be like to construct these drawings into a storyboard form, if you like, ultimately, the moving image. Clio began making short films of the experimental and artistry kind. She screened part of an intriguing short film she made in 1998 called Random acts of Intimacy which, like The Arbor, blended authentic voices with actors miming. In this case, irrational sexual acts (usually of one’s fantasy or imagination) were explained in detail and filtrated with shots from actual pornographic films. The audience wishes to seek out the vulnerability and the anonymity of lip-syncing makes this a frustrating and highly captivating task.

Clio continued to experiment with the medium, constantly looking for new ways to explore authenticity and connect with the real. However, she assertively believes that it is wholly risky to believe in the authenticity of film. Though, her social-realist style in The Selfish Giant may proclaim otherwise, it is after all inaugurated from a little fable of greed that resolves in receipt.

I am fascinated to find out where Clio will take her filmmaking journey next, she hinted she was in the writing process at the moment, nothing more. She has explored the boundaries of documentary and narrative filmmaking, both transcending the screen, one with Brechtian motives and the other via pure cinema. What’s next Clio?

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