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March 29, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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Fish Tank


Fish Tank’s title is obviously metaphorical, painfully so. Andrea Arnold’s interest in voyeurism is as ever-present here as it was in her feature-length debut, Red Road, but Fish Tank is far more ambitious, positioning the audience as the people watching from behind the glass. It’s in turn gripping and frustrating, as Arnold’s insistence on authenticity of experience gives us characters whose actions and thoughts are provocative and stirring, but in doing so she takes the titular metaphor too far, the characters swimming around in circles before flurries of action grab our interest.

Katie Jarvis is electric as fierce, potty-mouthed 15-year-old Mia, giving her a rough edge that belies her defensive nature. She’s wholly believable as the most ambitious fish in the tank, the one who continuously tries to leap out and make its way to the sea but never seems to succeed. Michael Fassbender plays opposite her as her mother’s new boyfriend, the charming, cultured Connor. Like Jarvis, Fassbender feels authentic, nailing his character and sucking us in with his agreeable nature. The two primarily excel, however, in the way they betray their characters’ hidden weaknesses, allowing us surreptitious glimpses of them as they slowly grow out of their pigeonholes. In a world where hostility is the status quo and life is as repulsive as it is depressing, these characters embody Fish Tank’s Glaswegian gloom, the aspiring escapee and the symbol of her hope. They are not what they seem, and what they seem is only good because of what it could grow into, rather than what it is. Arnold’s is a decidedly cynical worldview, one where escape is simply moving to another tank.

Much like this review, Arnold expounds constantly on the fish tank metaphor, even though it is never explicitly referenced in the film. The film is full of close-ups and hand-held camera shots that get us in, but not too close, almost like a glass barrier between us and the action. Meanwhile, the film sees the audience tapping the glass constantly, waiting for something to happen, only to jump back in surprise when the fish move with alarming speed and recklessness. But while this approach makes Fish Tank a sluggish film, it also makes it a captivating one, and there’s never any sense that what we’re watching is false.

Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Part of the World Cinema Showcase

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