Wednesday 18 November 2009

Review: Fish Tank

Year: 2009
Director: Andrea Arnold
Screenplay: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Katie Jarvis, Micheal Fassbender

Synopsis is here

When we first meet Mia (Katie Jarvis) she is alone, breathing heavily from practicing her hip-hop dancing in an empty blue room, looking out at the window in front of her. The window is rectangular and the image confirms that the confined Fish Tank that the title speaks of, is of course the Essex estate that is the setting of the story. Within a minute we are told almost everything we need to know about the character we're about to follow. The image is simple, stark and yet effective. It's also British filmmaking at it's strongest.

Andrea Arnold is a director that is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing British directors working today. She is a filmmaker that only produces strong female characters that do need to resort to using a gun or a knife to prove their strength. When they act, it doesn't feel that the script has told them to do it, it feels like the characters actual behavior dives them do act. In modern cinema, this can be every difficult to achieve, but Arnold in only her second feature is proving not only that she is an assertive and confident British director but an important one also.

Comparisons to Loach are abound, but Fish Tank reminds me more of Luke Moodyson's Lilya 4-Ever (2004). Both deal with young women trying to find their place in a world where Role Models are scare and Innocence can be easily lost. Arnold's film brings us this in a another simple but brilliant metaphor involving an old white horse owned by a group of brothers, chained in a field. Some might find the symbolism a little obvious but the films direction is so confident it hardly matters and helps enhance Fish Tank's unsure climax.

Until then we spend two hours of subtle unease as Mia's mother brings home Connor, played by a seductive Micheal Fessbender whose turn is so far away from his part in Inglourious Basteds you may wonder if it's the same person. The unsettling sexual tension between unknown Jarvis' fiery performance and Fessbender's charm is combustible and Arnold's building of the discomfort becomes almost unbearable as she tightens the screws slowly with the camera awkwardly lingering for a moment too long. Scenes consistently keep the anxiety just creeping above the surface and by the time we reach the third act, Arnold has wound the film so tightly that even the coke I was drinking couldn't shift the massive stone that had landed in the pit of my stomach. The payoff of all this is sutble and not as explosive as one may have considered, but Fish Tanks minimal resolution stays clear of easy answers and cliche and still managed to leave me speechless.

Fish Tank also features a use of music to utilize style, tone and background (it's not only interesting but insightful to see that it's the materialistic, commerical hip-hop lifestyle that appears to inspire working class whites on the Essex estate). Arnold also makes an articulate choice of using "Life's a bitch" by Nas to heighten of the films final moments. This attention to detail that makes the film stand above many other films of the year.

Fish Tank is an unflinching coming of age story which shows a cinematic talent beginning to hit her stride. Establishing themes that are personal to herself (Voyeurism which was prominent in Arnold's Red Road rears it's head once again), it is yet another female director who has brought about one of the most gutsy films of the year (see also Kathryn Bigalow's The Hurt Locker). For British Drama, nay, cinema doesn't get any better....Well...maybe Moon, but this is up there also kay?