The View From Here

Edinburgh Film Festival -- Fish Tank

Michael Bonner

I first met film maker Andrea Arnold at the Sundance festival in 2003, when she was premiering her short film, Wasp. An eventual Oscar winner, Wasp was a bleak but compelling slice of socio-realist cinema about a single mother trying to raise her kids on a claustrophobic London council estate. Arnold revisits, to some degree, the themes of Wasp for Fish Tank, her second full-length feature. Already highly praised in Cannes – it was one of only three British films in competition – it’s certainly the best film I’ve seen since arriving in Edinburgh.

A lot of this is down to Katie Jarvis, Arnold’s 17 year-old novice lead who the director spotted, on a train station, rowing with her boyfriend. As Mia, the main character in Fish Tank, she’s in every scene; it’s a phenomenal undertaking for a debuting actress. 15 year-old Mia lives with her mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) in an Essex council estate. Mia has been expelled from school, and she spends most of her time rowing with other girls on the estate or sinking bottles of cheap supermarket booze. Joanne, you suspect, has rarely shown her children much in the way of affection, and Mia and Tyler mask any disappointment or hurt at such neglect with bloody-minded scorn and almost perpetual anger, lashing out at anyone and anything given half a chance. Mia, though, does harbour dreams of being a dancer; she breaks into a disused flat on the estate and, with music playing on her tiny portable iPod speakers, practises her moves.

Things change when Joanne takes up with the charming, handsome Conor (Michael Fassbinder), who acts like a real father to the girls – even taking the family on trips into the Essex countryside. He is supportive, too, of Mia, as she confides in him that she has an audition as a dancer in a local nightclub. Mia, unused to receiving anything remotely resembling encouragement, is uncertain how to respond, alternating between suspicion and gratitude. It’s not giving much away to reveal that there is something looming with Conor and events take a particularly unpleasant turn.

Jarvis and Fassbinder are superb -- their performances fizz with energy and chemistry. Arnold, meanwhile, finds incredible flashes of beauty in the urban sprawl, whether it be a skyline or, in a scene that touches on magic realism, the sudden appearance of a horse. I'll revisit Fish Tank in more depth when I review for its theatrical release in September.

And you can see some clips here.


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