Fish Tank - 2009
Director(s): Andrea Arnold
Writer(s): Andrea Arnold
Cinematography by: Robbie Ryan
Editor(s): Nicolas Chaudeurge
Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, and Harry Treadaway
Continuing with British Cinema week here on my website, I wanted to tackle 2009's Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner, Fish Tank. This sophomore film from writer-director Andrea Arnold showcases her masterful use of social realism depicting the vicious circle many people living in lower income situations sadly fall into without knowing. With the film turning ten years old, and it being on the Criterion Channel, how about we revisit this rough look the lower income class in London.
The story follows Mia (Jarvis), a socially isolated, and short-tempered 15-year-old, living in an East London council estate with her single mother, Joanne (Wareing) and her younger sister, Tyler (Griffiths). Mia has a volatile relationship with her mother, and the only way she expresses any feelings toward her, or her sister is through curse words and disdain. When her mother brings home a dangerously attractive and charming boyfriend, Conor (Fassbender), she starts to bond with him despite her efforts to create the same distance she maintains with the rest of the world, through curse words and aggression. Mia and Conor's relationship reach a breaking point after she finds out who he really is - making her choose a new path.
Arnold's screenplay showcases a young mother resenting her daughter for her life, and economic situation - and a daughter that instead of learning from her mother's mistakes she is going down the same path. Sadly, this is something that happens more often than not, as kids in these situations are rarely given the alternative to what they see in their households. This reality hits home when Mia finally goes to the dance audition she saw as a way out, and it turned out to be another dead end. Their relationship does take a back seat once Conor comes into the picture, as the complexity, and somewhat worrisome nature of his attraction toward Mia become the focal point. While I did not love this aspect of the film, I was more drawn towards her family drama; it does showcase Mia becoming a woman, and how easily a person that only knows hate and disdain from the outside world falls in love with the first persona that smiles at them and pays attention.
Arnold asks a lot of newcomer Katie Jarvis in the lead role, and she rises to the occasion - showcasing a broad range of acting ability far beyond her age. Fassbender’s charm oozes out of him, and you can see the gravitational pull around him that draws in Mia and her mother. Their performances are natural, and it helps that Arnold shot it without any flash, maintaining the realism of the situation.
Fish Tank packs an emotional punch through the subtle sadness of the social situation Mia, and her family is living within. Mia's search for an identity outside of her social status through her dancing, and the letdown of realizing that the person that encouraged her, Conor, and the audition that called her were both a mirage in the desert of her life broke my heart, as you know it sent her down the wrong path - making the ending bittersweet.
Fish Tank is a Glass Half Full.
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