Fish Tank (UK, 2009, Andrea Arnold)
And, for a change of pace, Dan:
Fish Tank is about, and told through the eyes of Mia (Katie Jarvis, in a stellar debut), a hard-bitten, angry 15 year-old girl with vaguely-formed dreams of being a dancer, but whose life is rife with so much pain, bitterness and disappointment that such hopes are either kept secret or held at arm's length, for fear of suffering even
more disillusionment. Behind the bravado, there is a sensitivity and vulnerability that comes out in quieter moments, but which determinedly refuses to let other see. Mia carries this broil of emotions on her sleeve, the smallest provocation away from exploding in acts of verbal and/or physical violence.
The story takes place in the dilapidated housing projects of Essex. Yes, this is another fine British film where the degraded urban landscape matches well the grim lives of the characters who populate it. Here is where we will find Mia, who lives with her little sister and her mother Joanne (Kierston Wareling), who is of an age that suggests she was about Mia's age when giving birth to her elder daughter, and of such dubious character that she spends most of the movie boozing with and bedding men. Wareling gives a brave performance in Fish Tank, somehow managing to imbue her off-putting character with enough humanity to keep her just on the right side of monstrous. When Joanne brings home a seemingly decent chap named Conor (Michael Fassbender, who is predictably great) whose attentiveness extends beyond his sexual interest in Joanne, the movie enters an even more troubling phase. At first, Conor's kindness makes Mia wary, but eventually he wears down her reserve and distrust, leading both Conor and Mia into some challenging territory. To say more would be edging towards plot spoiler-ville, but suffice to say that as things get complicated, the film's central relationships become explosive.
Writer/director Andrea Arnold (Red Road, 2006) utilizes a rigorously naturalistic style, signified by some stark symbolism (a chained up horse, a fish out of water), ample use of hand held camerawork, a gritty location shoot and an unblinking lack of sentimentality, all of which reminds us of the work of her countrymen and antecedents, Lynne Ramsay, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Fish Tank is dire, but there are moments of hope, which lead to a moderately upbeat ending that some may accuse of being falsely uplifting, except that any thoughtful anticipation of what happens next should reveal that any optimism at this moment should be, at best, tentative.
Fish Tank is a very strong effort at every level, and should signal great things to come for all involved.
Bloody good movie. Started to write a review and couldn't get into it, for reasons unknown to me. Lots of things might be said, including comparisons to Sweet Sixteen, Rat Catcher and Winter's Bone, all bloody good themselves and I believe Fish Tank deserves to be counted among them. All I can manage to say beyond this is that the complete lack of sensationalism and the very emotionally challenging committment to character complexity makes Fish Tank a very solid work of realism. I was seriously affected by it, really hit me in the guts. I didn't even recognize Fassbender until my family pointed out to me after the fact that it was the same actor as the guy who played Bobby Sands in Hunger. Monica tells me the guys is rocketing to the A list, got a bunch of splashy product in the can. But he is two for two in my book.
Last thought, it was no surprise to read in the credits that Fish Tank was written and directed by a woman. The female POV informing the film is beyond some liberal lip-service to abstract feminist platitudes. It enters into the lived concreteness of the opportunity-less working-class just hovering above lumpen-proletarianization as it pertains specifically to the circumstance of women.
Bloody good movie.
Fish Tank's trailer:
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