Caught in the net of Fish Tank

Fish Tank (2009) by Andrea Arnold, heralded as one of British independent cinema’s jewels made in recent years, is well worth the watch. Despite the compulsory working-class drama gloomy trademark, the film draws a contemporary, touching and somehow positive portrait of Mia, a typical teenage girl spending her summer days in her run-down Essex council estate. Fish Tank could have easily pigeonholed itself as yet another depressing kitchen sink drama where all hope is lost for the deprived and the only way out is to engage in swearing, underage smoking, drinking and casual sex. A claustrophobic world where the lack of individual space fuels animosity between neighbours, making any act of natural kindness seem suspicious, and wiping out the thin line between child and adulthood. But there is light in the film, and a lot of it. The long summer evenings are well recreated, and the photography by Robbie Ryan manages to make the typical council estate look almost like a pleasant place to be. The aesthetic “still life” interludes remind the viewer that even in this grey-looking world, nature is never that far, as did Yorkshire-based My Summer of Love (2005) in its way. Then, the characters, in all their pettiness and selfishness, all reveal, at some point in the movie, the beauty within, thus avoiding the goodie and baddie classic model from mainstream cinema. Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis) seems hard-nosed and aloof, but she keeps secret her passion for hip-hop, energetically rehearsing her routines in a squat and preparing for a dance audition (which sadly turns out to be for a gentlemen’s club), she shows feelings towards animals (she tries to steal the gipsies’ horse) and ultimately, she’s capable of falling in love. Her sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) is a real pest but proves how much she loves her big sis when Mia announces she’s leaving the family home. The excellent Michael Fassbender, recently seen in a radically different role in X-Men Origins (2011), plays Connor, the genial lover of Joanne, Mia’s alcoholic mother. Connor’s attractiveness is blown up by the way Mia fantasizes about him, looks away from him, spies upon him. The film offers an interesting perspective on the love triangle paradigm, taking an opposite stand to The Mother (2003), where Daniel Craig falls into the clutches of his girlfriend’s mother. Here the awkwardness the budding relationship creates with the viewer somehow gives way to fantasy. Joanne is shown as such a mean and desperate mother, perhaps the only truly unlikeable character in the film, that the viewer gradually takes side for Mia and her forbidden plans. When the short-lived idyll is ended by an embarrassed Connor, Mia takes revenge by breaking into his house and, having discovered he has a family of his own, she resolves to kidnap his daughter. However extravagant the twist of events, we are relieved to see a dignified Connor give Mia a mere slap by way of hiding, proving that what happened between them went far beyond the one-night-stand but also re-establishing the limits between childhood and adulthood. True to its style the film ends with a question mark, letting the viewer decide whether the 15-year old will grow from her mistakes or resolve to join the ASBO troops. With such a fine debut, Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights will be eagerly anticipated. It has already made a fantastic impression at the last Venice Film Festival last September. See reviews and trailers on IMDB.

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