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United Kingdom 2009
Directed by
Andrea Arnold
112 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Fish Tank

Synopsis: Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a troubled 15-year-old living in the slums of Essex with her 8-year-old sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), and mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing). Mia has few friends, is kicked out of school, but loves to dance. One day her mother brings home a new boyfriend ,Connor (Michael Fassbender), who seems loving and kind and whose role in their lives seems bound to improve things for the family. Connor encourages Mia to audition for a dancing job but hopes for an improved life for the girls are soon abandoned. 

Fish Tank has just scooped the BAFTAs along with hosts of other nominations and awards including the Jury Prize at Cannes, 2009.  It is firmly in the “miserabilist” school of film-making. Call it gritty, call it cinema verité, it is acerbic, in your face, depressing, and finely executed.

The film opens with Mia practising her hip-hop style of dance in an abandoned apartment and abusing her friend over the phone. We meet the local girls, all sexually precocious, sneery, equally abusive and victims of Mia’s physical aggression. Then a surprising moment of tenderness emerges as Mia sees a folorn horse chained in a paddock and attempts to free it. Back at home there is more abuse from Joanne towards her largely neglected daughters, who drink and smoke on the sly. Joanne, who is only in her late 30s and behaving like an overgrown teen herself, is too busy boozing and picking up guys, to care or notice that her girls are heading down her estate-trash track. Little wonder that Connor seems heaven sent. He is kind to the girls, takes the family on a fishing trip and lends money to Mia, who continues to vent her anger on him all the while developing some sort of sexual attraction to him.

The unremitting grimness of life is effectively suggested by an almost perpetually grey palette and the grainy look to the film. But it is the performance of debut actress, Katie Jarvis, that astonishes. Apparently she was picked up off the street after being seen by the director brawling with her boyfriend.  We don’t like the girl but we feel for her. Mia’s desperate craving for love, combined with her anger, is a recipe for disaster. The sexy Michael Fassbender is also remarkable as the smooth-talking Connor. He treads the fine line between us wanting to like him and us constantly fearing what could happen between him and this underage teen with whom he’s sharing a very small apartment. The unspoken sexual tension is simmering throughout, pointing towards a very disturbing outcome.

The title could well refer to the fact that no-one has any privacy, or that, like tank fish, their lives will go on in circles, endlessly repeating the same mistakes, stuck in the same hopeless rut. We see this story almost exclusively through Mia’s eyes, making it somewhat one-sided, and the ending tries a bit too hard to inject a ray of hope (after some seriously high melodrama), but aside from this, Fish Tank is a fine film to see when you need to appreciate just how lucky you are.





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