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Review: Lady Lovely Lute

The Open Drama Night has produced an intriguing and insightful documentary, in which intimacy and intelligence is brought to a girl's experiences of brain trauma. Poppy Bullard reviews.

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Director: Laura Stratford
Verdict: 4 Stars

The Lady Lovely Lute begins shrouded in mystery. The Facebook event gives only a brief blurb setting the scene - a busking lute player with a runaway bohemian lifestyle - but fails to identify whether this is a short art film, a dramatic piece or a documentary. The only ubiquitous piece of information is that this week's ODN (the Open Drama Night in the Drama Barn) is a screening of a piece of student media, and this is unanimously interesting as the ODN has never been used for this before. If it proves a success, could be used more often as a platform for student film-makers.

Lady Lovely Lute quickly identifies as having multiple teething issues; the sound, for example, is largely obscured by a dense crackling for the first half hour, and the black walls of the drama barn don't necessarily highlight the cinematography, so faces and places are slightly dimmer than are normally expected on a screen or projection. But none of these minor details impact on the effect of Part One. Due to its minimally explanatory publicity, the opening chapter of the film is completely baffling. If you were expecting an art film, it clings to a level of "artiness" during the opening credits, but then quickly abandons it for seemingly unrelated interviews. If you were expecting a documentary, there is no outline as to exactly what is being documented, or why. The final scene of Part One sees Stephanie, the lute player, performing a, arguably very un-funny, set at a comedy night in Kentish Town.

I quickly come to regret this hasty judgement, as it is at my (and presumably the rest of the audience) own expense and guilt that the true premise of the documentary is exposed in Part Two. Credit must be given to Stratford and the way in which she has pieced together these fragments of interviews and Stephanie's life. Part One seems directionless, with only a small part of Stephanie's life revealed and multiple questions thrown up: who is she? Why does she behave the way she does? What are her motives for her choice of lifestyle? But these questions keep the audience unwittingly making judgements about Stephanie that are either reversed or dispelled during parts Two and Three.

Lady Lovely Lute becomes, then, a documentary about seeing and understanding the bigger picture - the back story. Part Two reveals to the audience that Stephanie's story is not one about a wild and bohemian lifestyle - it is about an individual's struggle to recover from serious brain injury. Stratford has fabricated two cleverly contrasting pictures in parts One and Two. Part One displays the view of Stephanie as an outsider, and Part Two holds the revelations of viewing from the inside. The delicate arrangement of Stephanie's views about her own life, and the opinions of those around her create a heart-wrenching image of an insecure lifestyle, of somebody treading on eggshells. The interviews with Stephanie's mother are cleverly placed alongside footage from before and around the time of her accident - by the end of Part Two Stratford has ensured that there is not a dry eye in the house.

This is an incredibly insightful documentary, and praise must be given to Stratford for the ways in which she has not only coaxed out emotion, information and even home videos from people severely affected by brain trauma, but also for the ways she has cleverly cut and assembled them into a story. The soundtrack (featuring original music from Stephanie herself) is not overpowering, but subtly adds to the sensitive material. It is a well thought-out, intelligent, but ultimately deeply emotional documentary. I can only hope the Drama Barn will recognise the passion that can be displayed through film-making, and elevate its status within the university.

There will be an additional screening of Lady Lovely Lute in the Spring Term.

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