Arcadia (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Paul Wright, UK, 2018, 78 mins

Review by Colin Dibben

This showcase for the BFI National Archive comes a real cropper to its aesthetic pretensions.

The promotional literature says this is a film, put together with archive footage from the national archive, that “explores our complex connection to the land we live in”. Frankly, I’m not sure it pulls off any such feat.

At degree zero, it looks like a lot of interesting footage of quirky rural life practices and blips of old films, edited together so fast that you hardly have time to let the imagery sink in.

Sometimes, as seems par for the course with video art, the imagery is slowed down and repeated. But whatever is done to the footage itself in the name of essayistic conceits, it looks like it would have been better left undone.

You get a sense of the rhythms of editing, of the stylistic needs of editing footage to create something greater than the fragments the footage has become. But right there is the terrible paradox: you’ve broken the footage into pieces to re-edit it into something else; and so you’ll be judged by the sense and rigour of the new entity you thereby create.

The problem facing the BFI is how to promote the wonderful resource they have. I’m not sure this is it.

Yes, every second of archive footage is wonderful but it is also brutally edited for a higher, oblique and pretentious essayistic end. I’d have liked the film to be less ‘edited together’, with longer sequences that err on the side of the naivest presentation (this … then this .. then this ..), rather than shots that build an oblique ‘argument’ and don’t give you time to appreciate the imagery.

Arcadia hits cinemas from 21 June.