Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Movie Review: Fish Tank (2010)

Fish Tank (2010)
Director - Andrea Arnold
123 min; UK
Mia - Katie Jarvis
Tyler - Rebecca Griffiths
Joanne - Kierston Wareing
Connor - Michael Fassbender

The British film Fish Tank is a rare movie-going experience, in that we the viewer move from simple voyeurs to the feeling that we are participating in the story to, finally, the feeling that we are the main character, somehow trapped in the same existence and the same feelings of hopelessness and despair that permeate her life. The her I refer to is Mia (Katie Jarvis), a 15 year old teen living a pretty lousy life in Essex with her little sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) and her single, party-going mother (Kierston Wareing). The three of them co-exist in a flat that is always dirty and they speak to each other with no hint that they are a family – calling one another ‘cunt-face’ or ‘fuck-head’ is a common theme and not one used in light humor.

The beauty of this film is found in the overwhelming feel of despair and alienation which Mia projects. The film is shot wonderfully from her point of view, so that we are always aware that the world in which we are thrust is what this angst-ridden teen is seeing and interpreting, a very important aspect to keep in mind since it always leaves open the possibility of an unreliable narrator or a revisionist view of the world. But that is all an afterthought really, as we navigate the life of Mia who has no friends (she head butts another girl in the face causing her to bleed profusely from the nose), is failing at school badly (she is preparing to be moved to a boarding school for troubled youths in a few weeks), and her only release in life is stealing whatever small amounts of cheap booze she can and retreating to an abandoned flat where she can express herself through hip-hop dance routines – we see her longingly view music videos and mimicking the moves as if she is fully aware that her only chance at a better life involves her getting far away from the one she currently has. At one point we almost believe that she may have a chance, but we are never quite sure what she believes.

The film really picks up with the introduction of Connor, played by the wonderful actor Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds; Hunger) who arrives at the home one day with the intoxicated mother and quickly becomes a staple in their lives. This is obviously the first man in any of their lives who even remotely borders on being a good person and it is clear that Mia has some extremely conflicted views of the situation, emotionally, sexually, and just from the point of view of not trusting anyone but needing and wanting that trust. Connor’s relationship with Mia teeters on the edge of sweet and tender (he removes her shoes for her as he puts her to bed) to the genuinely nice (he offers her a video camera to make a dance audition tape) to the ambiguously pedophilia/opportunistic actions of a man and a teenage girl.

The director is careful to never really place blame on anyone, but to merely show us through Mia who these people represent to her life. This girl is damaged in ways most people do not know, but we root for her and we hope that she gets her audition. This is a bleak and powerful film that will have you questioning a great deal about what it is like to be in a position like Mia and how exactly someone like this can ever make a change for the better. The story itself is fairly straight-forward, but Jarvis takes this character and makes her so powerful and vulnerable and real that we lose ourselves in her passion. The film won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and is just recently released in the USA.

***** out of 5

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