Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fish Tank

Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, a Cannes Jury Prize winner, is a powerful and moving independent British film.  It paints a harsh, bleak picture of lower class life in England while at the same time managing to fill viewers with hope and beauty.

The acting by the main female lead, Katie Jarvis, is astonishing and incredible (this is the first time she has ever acted).  She plays Mia, a combative, lonely, often angry but mainly misunderstood teenager.  This is not difficult to surmise given the environment that she is being raised in.  Her mother, a physical cross between Kate Moss and Pamela Anderson, is totally self-absorbed, insults her children, drinks heavily, smokes all the time, loves to party and has boyfriends stay over.

Mia has been kicked out of school and has a hard time getting along with others, constantly fighting either physically or verbally with somebody.  A compassionate, softer side to this tough talking fifteen year old comes through when we see her visiting a chained horse daily and trying in vain to free it.  Mia's own escape is through dancing.  She is not a particularly great dancer but practices her routines with passion.

The story begins to unfold as Mia develops a bond with her mom's latest conquest, the attractive, easy-going, sexy Connor, excellently portrayed by Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds).  She is very drawn to this new man who treats her like an adult and pays attention to her.  A fine, eerie line between friendship or fatherly attention and sexual attraction is thus drawn.  This ambiguity and its subsequent developments and final revelation make for an intense, original, interesting and rich drama. 

The dancing sequences interspersed throughout the movie are captivating in their strangeness and appeal.  It is a poignant, bizarrely beautiful and exotic sight when Mia dances to "California Dreamin'" for Connor with enchanting outdoor light swirling in the background.  Or my favorite, at the end, a magical scene where she, her mom and sister dance to a hip-hop song together.  No words are spoken but the meaning is clear - they are a family no matter what.

I liked this film a lot although I didn't expect to.  It is strong and realistic and its protagonists will stay with you long after the movie ends.  I read that the actors were only given the script one week beforehand and did not know what would happen to their characters.  The director wanted their acting to be as natural and as real as possible.  Mission accomplie! 

My rating: 8.5
Fabio's: 8
Total score: 16.5

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