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April 28, 2011 1:42 AM
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Critical Consensus: Innovative Doc "The Arbor" Is The Pick of the Week

Clio Barnard's "The Arbor."

Opening in limited release this week is an eclectic batch: Clio Barnard's unique exploration of playwright Andrea Dunbar, "The Arbor," Werner Herzog's 3-D history lesson, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," Benjamin Heisenberg's German bank robber flick "The Robber," Takashi Miike's Japanese import, "13 Assassins," television producer Philip Rosenthal's doc on bringing his "Everybody Loves Raymond" to Russia, "Exporting Raymond," and Mark Ruffalo's directorial debut, "Sympathy For Delicious."

The clear critics' pick of the lot, at least according to criticWIRE, is "The Arbor," a remarkable new entry into Britain's tradition of social realism. It portrays the life of the late Andrea Dunbar, a troubled playwright who wrote about her experiences in working-class Northern England. Barnard took hundreds of hours of tape recordings with Dunbar's family and friends and hired actors to lip-sync them. The result is a stunning achievement that pushes the boundaries of form to explore the cyclical nature of addiction and self-destruction. It has the honor of being this week's critical consensus pick of the week (the top scoring film with five or more grades), averaging an "A-" from 8 different critics. indieWIRE's Eric Kohn agreed, giving the film a "A."

Kohn summarized his take on "The Arbor" and other opening films below:

Werner Herzog recently told an interviewer that he could title any one of his movies "Staring Into the Abyss" and the name would fit, but "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" would work just as well. That's the actual title for the director's mesmerizing 3-D excursion into recently excavated caves in Southern France. The dark enclosures are littered with primordial art, some of it dating back more than 30,000 years. Although less eccentric than many of the director's indelibly strange masterpieces, "Cave" studies the mysteries of human expression with a familiar blend of first-person investigation and poetic musings. The technology only deepens its allure. "When you look at the film in 3-D, there's no argument that it must be that way," Herzog told me last week. Of course, his personality always pops right off the screen (aother name director who has recently turned to 3-D is Takashi Miike. While his multidimensional "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" premieres at Cannes next month, you can check out his last 2-D effort, "13 Assassins," opening this week).

A very different form of technical wizardry is at work in this week's Critical Consensus pick: "The Arbor," Clio Barnard's extraordinary documentary-fiction hybrid about the life and death of troubled British playwright Andrea Barnard. Barnard hired actors to mouth the words of interview subjects, who recall Dunbar's difficult years as a pregnant teen and the subsequent abusive relationships that held her down. The characters both inhabit reality and--through Barnard's eerie lip-syncing device--create distance from it. Only Dunbar's own plays can truly explain her psyche: Times were hard, but for that very reason Dunbar was able to create great art--no fancy cameras necessary.

Check out the links below for more extensive takes on "The Arbor," "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," "The Robber," "13 Assassins," "Sympathy For Delicious," and more. Also offered is the top ten criticWIRE scores for films already in theaters, which is currently topped by Joao Pedro Rodrigues acclaimed Portuguese import, "To Die Like a Man" (read iW's review of the film).

iW Film Calendar & criticWIRE:
criticWIRE | Opening this week | Opening this month | All Films A - Z

criticWIRE: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article. They are subject to change as new grades come in, and will be updated in next week's edition of this article.

The Arbor (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: A-

The Robber (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

13 Assassins (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Sympathy For Delicious (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

Exporting Raymond (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

criticWIRE: 10 Best Bets Already In Theaters

1. Le Quattro Volte (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

2. Armadillo (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

3. Meek's Cutoff (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

4. Certified Copy (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

5. Incendies (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

6. Jane Eyre (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

7. Win Win (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

8. Hanna (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

9. A Screaming Man (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

10. The Princess of Montpensier (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Previous Picks of the Week:
April 20: Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies"
April 13: Janus Metz's "Armadillo"
April 6: Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff"
March 30: Michaelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte"

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