Archive for August, 2009


Fish Tank

August 27, 2009

‘Fish Tank’
Andrea Arnold | UK | 2009 | 124 mins

Writer/director Andrea Arnold does not here expand upon the cinematic and storytelling dynamics of her earlier work, but it is perhaps her most accomplished film so far. Again a solitary female is the subject and a working class council estate the milieu. But Kate Jarvis’ fierce teen Mia is far more complex than the irresponsible young mother of Wasp, and more fascinating than 30-something Jackie of Arnold’s arduous Red Road, likely because realistic portraits of teens are so rare in cinema. Mia is a bit of an outsider, she would rather headbutt her contemporaries than tolerate them, but not so much that her actions and dreams are beyond the scope set out for her by her upbringing. Arnold maintains an exhaustive realism within every facet of the film, matching any of her social realist filmmaker contemporaries in clarity and depth of character. The cinematography is at once typical of recent low-budget productions with its handheld, Dardenne-esque subjective camera, and uniquely beautiful shot with a restricted depth of field allowing for such exquisitely soulful focus movements. The choice of a narrow 1.33 aspect ratio is an interesting one, coupled with the softness of the lighting it reminds one of Polaroid photos, and also heightens the claustrophobic feeling inside this suffocating tank that is Mia’s world.

The acting by all here is unusually strong. Kate Jarvis in her first role ever is simply outstanding, upholding the aggressive facade of a proud teenager to such a degree that we can still see her pain and insecurity underneath. Michael Fassbender proves again how terrific he is after last year’s Hunger as the charming, soulful, but ultimately imperfect Connor, the new boyfriend of Mia’s mother. Of course, Arnold herself is to be praised for eliciting such rich performances, starting with her script. She embodies the characters with such distinguishable traits that be it from written word or improvisation they are three-dimensional people bouncing off each other, people we all know or have known. For this reason the film is very funny in places simply because of this associability. Most laughs come from Mia’s sister, played by 12-year-old Rebecca Griffiths, who teems with obnoxious but often witty comebacks and curses likely stolen from television and older kids. But she too has an innocence we see under the tough facade. In one scene as Mia’s sister and a friend lay on her bed acting cool smoking and mocking the people on the TV, Mia and the audience observe relatively intact butterfly stickers on the bedpost. Fish Tank is a coming-of-age story of startling texture. It stumbles once with a contrived piece of plotting involving a child, but it’s otherwise a very solid work.