Fish Tank (15.)
Directed by Andrea Arnold.
Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rachel Griffith, Harry Treadaway. 125 mins
Most every year the British go to Cannes with a Come, See Our Proletariat effort and Fish Tank went down particularly well at this year’s event. Arnold’s follow up to the splendidly creepy Red Road is a more traditional offering, a raw kitchen sink estate drama about Mia (Jarvis) a sullen, friendless, teenager living aimlessly in the joyless flatlands of Essex.
There’s a lot of cants in Mia’s life and a lot of cants in this film. (So many that you suspect a bit of home team bias in the BBFC’s decision to give this a 15 certificate – I doubt an American film would be allowed to get away with this level of profanity.)
But her bleak certainties are challenged when her mother (Wareing) brings home a new man (Fassbender) who seems quite nice and takes an interest in her.
The seeker after the poetry of the urban poor is engaged in an inherently precarious pursuit. There is much to mock, much to admire. Early on, the film has Mia making repeated attempts to free a thin white horse that is tied up in a field, a metaphor so clunking it might have been typed by a hoof. An ‘orse in a field, I wasn’t having that.
But Arnold strikes me as a mighty film maker and when she gets something right, she gets it very right. There are moments that made me cringe and moments so perfect they were as good as anything seen this year.
The acting is very strong. When he first appears, proper movie actor Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds, Hunger) seems to have been beamed in from another planet but the balance between him and Jarvis, who had never acted before, is handled perfectly. The film gets the look and feel of Essex perfectly and, without making a big show of it, some of the shots are beautifully composed.
So why is it called Fish Tank? Maybe it’s because this is a film whose function will be to let polite society have a curiosity into how the underclass function. The release schedule does take in the Vues of Dagenham and Romford, but mostly it is booked into the art houses of central or gentrified London.