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Reviews - Fish Tank

Fish Tank

Reviewed By John Stakes

Fish Tank
Fish Tank
In 2006 Andrea Arnold caused quite a stir when her debut feature “Red Road” set in Glasgow scooped the Cannes Jury Prize. Three years later history repeated itself when her second film “Fish Tank” set in a London inner city housing estate won her the same award. So has Arnold (who has been likened to a female Ken Loach) got what it takes to become one of Britain’s great film makers?

If nothing else Arnold is brave. In searching for her female lead she found Katie Jarvis a 17 years old single mother who was spotted not in auditions but having a stand up argument with her long standing boyfriend Brian on Tilbury station platform. Jarvis was obviously streetwise but lacked any experience in the world of acting. She was nevertheless signed up alongside an actor noted for the intensity of his performances, the Hungarian born Irishman Michael Fassbender who was last seen in a self-imposed semi- emaciated condition for his role as Bobby Sands in the hugely controversial and acclaimed “Hunger” shown last season.

If all this were not daunting enough for Jarvis she was also denied the opportunity to read up her part before shooting began because Arnold requires her actors to enter the filming process with no preconceptions as to how they should approach their roles and without any advance script. No doubt her worthy objective is to generate as much realism and spontaneity as possible when her improvisation sessions are completed and her camera rolls.

When filming began Jarvis was also to find that Arnold’s camera refused to leave her alone: it followed her everywhere, and every aspect of her character Mia’s troubled life was observed from her perspective. No wonder Jarvis found her baptism into the world of movie making almost overwhelming

For Mia there was no escape from her dysfunctional family and high rise sink estate existence. The only respite for the stroppy 15year old came from her love of dance and fondness for the bottle but there was to be no Billy Elliot way out for her. Or for us because for over an hour Arnold’s stalking camera relentlessly pursued Mia from one alcohol fuelled spat to another with little other than a sparse perfunctory script laced with improvisation to accompany us and no music except the occasional strains of “California Dreamin”

The film received the boost it needed in the form of Fassbender’s Connor, the latest boyfriend of her sluttish single mother and whose seemingly selfless minor acts of kindness towards the family were cleverly calculated to draw Mia towards him. But there was much more beneath Connor‘s surface charm the discovery of which by Mia fuels the second half of the film and turns it from a foul mouthed episode of Eastenders into a worthy drama.

The blending of professional actors and locals worked well and helped to give the film its realistic edge. “Fish Tank” has been compared to Ken Loach’s “Kes” for this reason but, for this reviewer, this particular example of Arnold’s work was more reminiscent of Shane Meadow’s “Somers Town” and Arnold has some way to go yet before she can assume Loach’s mantle. And it is not yet clear whether Arnold’s style of film making is dictated more by funding limitations than by choice. However, there was much to appreciate and with Jarvis picking up the most promising newcomer accolade at the recent BIFA awards Arnold may well be blessed with greater funding for her next production which may give her a broader canvas for her obvious talents.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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