Fish Tank

Fish Tank

****1/2

Reviewed by: Chris

“All my films have started with an image,” says director Andrea Arnold. “It’s usually quite a strong image and it seems to come from nowhere. I don’t understand the image at first or what it means, but I want to know more about it so I start exploring it, try and understand it and what it means. This is how I always start writing.”

What does the image of a fish tank conjure up for you?

Copy picture

On the inside, longing to look out, is 15-year-old Mia. Trapped in a housing estate. Trapped in a single parent family. Trapped by people around her she can’t respect. Trapped in herself. For being 15. She has her own inner world, fighting to manifest itself. Fortified by cigarettes and alcohol she can kick in the door of the empty nearby flat. A bare floor. Her CD player. She can practice her moves. She's a better dancer than those kids on the block she just nutted.

Mia is quite content to carve out her own double life, f*ck you very much! Never mind that she gets caught and nearly comes to grief trying to steal a horse. And social workers don't scare her. But mom’s new boyfriend – that could be a pain! A real spanner in the works. Especially when he’s so annoyingly nice.

Under Andrea Arnold’s hand, life on this inner city concrete backwater is suddenly very alive. Banalities become beautiful. Like sunlight through cracked glass. Vibrant, gritty and riveting, but in a way that entertains powerfully. As pulsating and funny as Trainspotting but without the yuck factor. Its momentum is overpowering. We never know what is going to come out of Mia's mouth or where events will lead. Each jaw-dropping new scene surprises yet seems the result of inexorable momentum. As if that wasn’t enough, the story mercifully avoids kitchen-sink drama, excessive violence, drugs, getting pregnant, grand larceny, car crashes and all the other cliché-ridden devices to which cinema-goers are usually subjected. Tightly controlled, Fish Tank attacks with a potent and thought-provoking arsenal of story-telling.

Andrea Arnold proved she could do hard-hitting realism with her award-winning debut, Red Road. Here she exceeds her earlier efforts but still imbibes many of the verité approaches and senses of discipline that have filtered down from the Dogme and Advance Party movements. Her ‘strong initial image,’ or lack of subservience to more traditional methodology, is reminiscent of the devotion to experimental, avant-garde cinema taken by artists-turned-filmmakers such as Steve McQueen (Hunger) or theme-over-story technicians such as Duane Hopkins (Better Things). Michael Fassbender, who took reality to new heights as Bobby Sands in Hunger, here plays the mystifying and warmly charismatic Connor (Mum’s boyfriend).

Arnold didn't allow actors to read the script beforehand. They were given their scenes only a few days before filming. For the part of Mia, she chose a complete unknown with zero experience. Arnold spotted Katie Jarvis at a train station after drawing a blank with casting agencies. "She was on one platform arguing with her boyfriend on another platform, giving him grief." However the performance is achieved, Jarvis is electrifying. If Arnold wanted a ‘real’ person for the role, this 17-year-old takes over the screen with raw adolescent power. Says Arnold, "I wanted a girl who would not have to act, could just be herself."

Fish Tank will lift you out of your seat and on an unstoppable flight, ricocheting against confines of circumstance and imploding a dysfunctional family with its head of hormonal steam. Laugh, cry, hold on tight. You will need to. I could almost taste the vodka, as Mia goes through her Mum’s dressing table drawers, bottle in hand. I wish all British films were this good.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2009
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A bored 15-year-old girl collides with her mother's frustrating but charismatic boyfriend.
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Director: Andrea Arnold

Writer: Andrea Arnold

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Harry Treadaway, Kierston Wareing, Jason Maza, Katie Jarvis, Jack Gordon, Charlotte Collins, Brooke Hobby, Chelsea Chase

Year: 2009

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

EIFF 2009

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