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Fish Tank (The Criterion Collection)
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British director Andrea Arnold (Red Road) won the Cannes Jury Prize for the searing and invigorating FISH TANK, about a fifteen-year-old girl, Mia (electrifying newcomer Katie Jarvis), who lives with her mother and sister in the depressed housing projects of Essex. Mia?s adolescent conflicts and emerging sexuality reach boiling points when her mother?s new boyfriend (a lethally attractive Michael Fassbender [Hunger, Inglourious Basterds]) enters the picture. In her young career, Arnold has already proven herself to be a master of social realism (evoking the work of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach), investing her sympathetic portraits of dead-end lives with a poetic, earthy sensibility all her own. FISH TANK heralds the official arrival of a major new filmmaker.
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Mia is all toughness - in her dress, her talk, her manner, her dancing - not just to disguise the turbulence and teenage angst raging inside her, but also to separate and distance herself from the image of her mother, who is almost overly feminine. She is trying to find a way out, to escape from her loneliness, her insensitive mother, her almost hopeless existence. The beginning of the movie sees her at the end of a close friendship with someone, leaving her particularly alone and looking for validation and friendship. So when the kind and attentive Connor enters her life and compliments her dancing, (which is incredibly important to her - it is her release, and she allows herself to be vulnerable only when she is dancing, and does it alone most of the time, only feeling safe enough to dance in front of Connor), she is drawn to him from the start. It is apparent that the lack of a father figure in her life also led to this misguided attraction, which becomes clearer towards the end of the movie.
Mia's mother Joanne is a young single mother, bitter and resentful at being one, and willfully shirks the responsibility; her two girls live almost orphaned, unparented lives. She looks like she has given up and the only time she tries is when she is with Connor, acting the part of girlfriend and mother around him.Read more ›
this is still very strong film making. Unlike `Red Road', the subject has been covered before - a damaged,
angry neglected teenager, acting out against the world, getting in over her head sexually, behaving in ways that
even she would be hard pressed to explain. But if the general terrain is a familiar, the sense of rage and
power is one we rarely see given to a young female character, and - for the most part - there's a sense of raw
honesty and truth that eludes the vast majority of films about teens.
Mild spoilers ahead.
For every moment that the film flirts with cliché (the good boyfriend/bad boyfriend choice - more subtle than
usual here, but still a little too neat), there are others that are original, complex and unique. I just wish the
ending didn't feel like a forced hopeful note, that a few of the symbols along the way (e.g. the White Horse)
weren't so on the nose, and that Katie Jarvis, marvelous most of the time in the lead, but a non-pro, had a
couple more colors and nuances in her performance. But none of those drawbacks, while substantive, keep
this from being an important film by an important young filmmaker.
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The style in which Fish Tank is filmed resembles that of Christian Mungiu's 4 luni, 3 sãptãmâni ºi 2 zile (known in English by 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days), in that what is being filmed is almost a documentary. The camera shakes when Mia is attacked by three tough boys when trying to rescue the white horse. The camera shakes when Mia chases after Connor's car after he walks out on her mother, and as Mia flees from the clutches of the three thugs in the lot. A handheld camera is used for scenes when Mia is in the abandoned apartment, practicing her hip-hop dancing to Ja Rule and Nas. The brilliant and engaging "new" camera style enables the audience to engage more sufficiently in Mia's life as she lives it.
Rarely do I ever close my eyes in films, and rarely do I have to reach over and hold the hand of whomever is sitting next to me in the theatre, whether it be my mother, father, sister, or that woman sitting next to me who keeps chatting with her girlfriend, but Fish Tank and Katie Jarvis's exhilarating, awe-inspiring, heartbreaking performance made me do both. Her role pins you to your seat from the very first scene to the very last moments, which has been seen once before this year in a young newcomer's performance in a motion picture - Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. In fact, Fish Tank has been referred to as Britain's Precious, two motion pictures with hauntingly similar yet eerily different plotlines - a high-school dropout, living in a bad area, with an abusive parent and troubled lives. Like Sidibe, the debutante Katie Jarvis outshines and upstages veteran actors such as Michael Fassbender and Kierston Waering, and offers an authentic and breathtaking role in an unfortunately relatable part.
Fish Tank: Directed by Andrea Arnold. Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Waering, Rebecca Griffiths and Harry Treadaway.
Jarvis, as I said, takes center stage throughout. Independent and confrontational, Jarvis lives with her mother and younger sister. As you might expect, there is a constant battle at home where her mother seeks refuge in alcohol and attempts to relieve her loneliness through random sexual encounters. The bulk of the story begins when momma's new beau (Michael Fassbender) enters the picture. Initially wary of the sexy new stranger, Jarvis becomes increasingly intrigued as he seems to be more than a one night stand. Alternately hostile and accepting, it is supremely difficult for her to let her guard down. But her racing and conflicted emotions propel her closer to Fassbender. It is an astute portrayal (perhaps one of the better representations of warring emotions of late) that has Jarvis infatuated with her mom's suitor. She is sexually attracted to him, sees him in a paternal light, and sees him as a respectful friend and equal. He stirs up so much uncertainty, however, it does cause Jarvis to reexamine how she's leading her life.
The film doesn't shy away from some rather unpleasant plot developments. When Jarvis feels betrayed, in fact, the film possess the power to shock as she is pushed beyond all reasonable boundaries. This is truly a magnetic performance of fire and honesty and I expect we'll be seeing much more of Katie Jarvis. I have sung the praises of Michael Fassbender in several other films (and I like the way his career is going--balancing small indies with big blockbusters), but he is absolutely crucial here. So captivating and winning, with a quiet despair just under the surface, it's easy to see how he could bewitch the standoffish Jarvis. A picture of enormous power, "Fish Tank" is a truly unique and great entry into the ever growing alienated teen genre. Smart and successful, an easy recommendation. KGHarris, 3/11.
This is the basic set up for the much -praised film from up-and-coming filmmaker Andrea Arnold. Shot in a hand-held style on a shoe-string budget, FISH TANK is interested in exploring the life (and inner-life) of this one specific teenager. She comes from poverty and neglect. She's not experienced much affection in her life. She's angry but also has impulses that draw her to beauty, whether towards a horse kept in a nearby deserted lot or for the simple pleasures of a drive into the country. Our initial reaction to Mia, whom we meet as the camera follows her wandering around the estate (Arnold spends A LOT of time literally following the jogging-suit-wearing Mia as she walks around), is not positive. "What a horrible brat!" is the first reaction, followed by a feeling that this young lady is a hopeless waste of anyone's time and energy.
Then her mother meets a guy, Connor (Michael Fassbender). Connor is handsome, charming, has a decent job and makes mom happy, which makes mom nicer. Connor also provides Mia with some much needed positive attention. He compliments her dancing. He takes the family to the country and shows them beautiful sights. We are shown how his simple attention awakens something in Mia. He is awakening hope. He is reminding Mia that gentle human contact is desirable. And he also appears to be stirring a physical response from Mia. The viewer can see that what Mia NEEDS is a father figure...but she is mistaking that need as a need for physical attention...for sex, perhaps.
The tension of this film (which is actually pretty palpable at times) is in the wondering where the relationship between these two is headed. Will they find their ways into appropriate roles? Or will the chemistry between them pollute what started out so well? And suddenly, we are rooting for Mia...because we see how the right choices could really turn things around.
The story-telling style, as I said, is to pretty much just follow Mia around, whether she is doing important things or mundane things. Young Katie Jarvis is a natural and even though she seems to be a typical sullen teenager, she lets us see enough on her face to understand that her inner-life is a bit richer and more complex than her exterior. It's one of the most convincing portrayals of a teenager I've seen. However, Director Arnold does spend just a bit too much time photographing Mia walking. Of two hour running time, I think we spend 20 minutes just watching Mia stroll around. That's 10 minutes too much. The filmmaker is perhaps just a bit too much in love with her naturalistic filming style and forgets that she's also making a piece of entertainment.
All the acting is good. Fassbender, before he became a rising star, is virile and charming. All the minor performers come across well. This is a tiny little story, but told with great conviction and commitment...resulting in a surprisingly gripping movie.
The Criterion Blu-ray is excellent as always. The filming uses natural light, and the blu ray captures that well, for better and worse. The bonus materials are decent but uninspired. However, the essay included in the booklet is great...it puts the film into perspective into the larger genre of "exploring British lower-class life via naturalistic filming" that folks like Ken Loach made so resonant. But it also deeply explores the film and illuminates what makes it unique and what makes it work so well.
In most movies, everything is cranked up to the maximum and shoehorned into a contrived plot that strictly follows conventions so as not to upset the audience. Music, emotions, conflicts, events...everything is calculated to manipulate the viewer and bash them over the heard. Stories follow predictable lines with easily identifiable character archetypes. They are written to please audiences. Infact many releases go through a process of test screening to determine which ending is the best one at pleasing audiences, for example the travesty that was I Am Legend. And, of course, frames are populated only by capital 'a' Actors. And as a result, they have all the metaphorical nutrition and satiety of a bag of Doritoes. Of course I like me a bag of cool ranch every now and again, but they don't satisfy like real food.
Fish Tank also avoids what I call the James Joyce syndrome, wherein a work is buried in a mass of symbolism and metaphor, and you have to have a pHd in codebreaking to understand what is being communicated. I am not saying that those types of works are worthless etc, or that it is not worthwhile in watching and thinking about films Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. But, for me, I cannot get emotionally involved with the characters or engrossed in the story when it is heavily abstracted and symbolic. Moreover, I don't have the educational background in literature and film to be able to do that kind of analysis.
Imo, this is one of the best character driven movies I've seen. I really cannot find fault with anything the director/writer has done in Fish Tank.
As far as the criterion edition goes, it is fantastic. The movie was shot on 35mm film and the blu ray transfer retains much of that wonderful film look. The video portion is an h264/AVC stream that averages 37 Mbps, and so suffers from no visible compression artifacting or degradation. The audio is 5.1 dts-hd. The majority of the audio is dialog or music that is being played on a portable player etc within the story, so most of the audio is in the centre channel. This also lends to the realism as there are no unnatural 5.1 audio effects. All in all a wonderful job by the Criterion people.
Life starts to change when her Mom takes a lover, the charming Irish Connor. Connor befriends Mia, compliments her, shows kindness and encourages her to pursue her dancing dream. Mia spots a local ad seeking "adult female dancers" and sends in a home-made audition film. Her relationship with her mother's boyfriend takes a sharp turn, setting in motion a surprising sequence of events.
Eventually, Mia packs her bags and decides to move out. On her way out of the flat, she spots her mother dancing, undulating to Nas and "Life's a Bitch." Her mother barely registers the fact that Mia is moving out.
Mia starts dancing with her mother. The little sister joins in, dancing in time with the others. The pet pit-bull Tennant lies on the floor, rapt in attention, looking puzzled. Great scene!
This story kept my attention for a full two hours. It is gritty and powerful. In the final scene, a heart-shaped nylon helium balloon floats ascends high above the grimy public housing project as Mia and her new boyfriend motor off to Cardiff.
FISH TANK blew me away. Maybe the best film I've seen in 2011.
Tip: Watch it with subtitles on; the Brit accents are so thick it may be otherwise hard to understand the dialogue.