Arcadia

 

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Britain and its traditions seen afresh through avant-garde eyes.

 

Arcadia 

And ears...

 

In years gone by the London Film festival regularly featured a section that was described as 'Experimenta'. That appears to have been abandoned now, but it seems the right category in which to place Paul Wright's Arcadia. This new work does not represent the extremes of avant grade cinema but nevertheless it is best thought of as an offbeat conceptual piece that is most likely to appeal to those who favour works that involve a degree of experimentation.

 

Arcadia can aptly be described as a collage of material from film archives including that of the British Film Institute in which this footage is used to portray the British over the last century with special reference to our relationship to nature because, as the film puts it, the truth is in the soil. That may sound unusual, but it doesn't begin to indicate just how novel this project is. Indeed, its greatest success lies in illustrating how a sensitive and inventive film score - this one headed up by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory of Portishead and Goldfrapp - can become a vital element in making a  film cohere and engage it audience.

 

Publicity refers to the film working through the seasons and that does sound more conventional. However, despite the fact that the film consists of a series of titled sections, only one, 'Winter Solstice', refers directly to a season and it is not easy to decide what characterises each named segment - all the more so when some  images recur throughout. There is no commentary to clarify the film's aims and, if the images imply that everything is seen by a female observer (or dreamed by her), the voices that are heard only raise further questions (some of them, but not all, appear to be part and parcel of the archive footage that we are viewing at that moment).

 

Ultimately, in the absence of anything more clear-cut, one falls back on noting Paul Wright's likes and dislikes: he deplores the despoliation of the countryside, the loss of freedom, hunting, people of privilege and violence generally; he is in favour of traditional culture, closeness to nature and nudism, the latter coming close to providing the film with a leitmotif. But everything is mixed up together since some of the archive is documentary and some of it is not, while superimpositions and freshly created montages add to the individuality of the piece. If the opening scenes seem too cosily nostalgic to be taken at face value, folk  influences, rituals and legends offer a dark side and in doing so carry a distinct echo of Wright's earlier feature For Those in Peril (2013). But, if the new work leads to oblivion before the shadows seemingly withdraw, we are left uncertain as to how the various elements are meant to be read. Arcadia is intriguingly different but how much it satisfies depends to an unusual degree on the taste of the individual viewer.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Dir Paul Wright, Pro John Archer, Ed Michael Aaglund, Music Adrian Utley, Will Gregory, Sound Palette and Dario Swade.

 

BFI/Creative Scotland/Hopscotch Films/BBC/BFI National Archive-BFI Distribution.
78 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 21 June 2018. Cert. 12A.