Fish Tank

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  • Topic: Cannes Film Festival, Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold
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  • Published : November 22, 2011
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Fish Tank
Andrea Arnold’s brave female take on sink-estate survival is a diamond in the rough

Kevin Maher
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Recommend? (15)

Not since the early days of Jane Campion (The Piano) has international cinema seen a talent as fearlessly attuned to the primal female voice as the Dartford-born writer-director Andrea Arnold. Within the space of only two features and one Oscar-winning short film (Wasp), Arnold has articulated an unnerving, bleak but always compelling worldview where hard-knock women and sado-masochistic desires collide. In her previous feature, Red Road, she pitched an avenging widow into a Glasgow tower block and a murky world of sexual self-hatred. In Fish Tank, she moves to an Essex council estate and explores the often conflicting inner and outer desires of a teen tearaway and wannabe street dancer, Mia (Katie Jarvis, pictured). A typical day in the life of 15-year-old Mia, who has been expelled from school, includes taunting some local girls, head- butting a rival dancer, trying to free a malnourished pony, narrowly escaping gang rape, enjoying some potty-mouthed exchanges with her precocious little sister (sample dialogue: “Shut up f*** face!” “If I’m a f*** face, you’re a c*** face!”), and being slapped across the head by her bleach-blonde mother, who screams: “I nearly had you aborted! Even made the appointment!” So far, so Loach. But Mia’s life, and the movie surrounding her, suddenly dives into uncharted territory with the arrival of mum’s new boyfriend, a sensitive and attractive security guard called Connor (played by the rising star Michael Fassbender). The latter’s intentions towards Mia are seemingly paternalistic, but they appear to awaken complex adolescent emotions within. Through snatched exchanges, day trips and cramped kitchen encounters, their relationship see-saws queasily into a simmering Electra. Thus when Connor’s appetites and Mia’s minor seductions eventually collide the repercussions are, naturally, profound. Related Links

* Katie Jarvis on Fish Tank and sudden success
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* Station row led to role for Fish Tank star
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In all this, Arnold draws flawless performances from her cast while making exemplary choices with her camera — she shoots Fassbender in particular with a fantastically lusty eye, casually catching the low-slung jeans, the navel exposed and the wiry naked torso. However, there are some cracks in Arnold’s methods. Her treatment of class is curious, and vaguely patronising. The attempts to draw laughs from trash culture values is certainly ill-advised. When Mia’s mother warns her girls against sullying their clothes with the line “Oi! Those bloody tracksuits cost £20, ye know!” it feels cruel and sneering. And the endless roaming shots of breeze-block estates can seem like lazy visual shorthand for dramatic credibility in a superlative film that is otherwise awash with it. The Cannes Film Festival anointed a new star today: a teenager with no acting experience who was discovered having a row with her boyfriend on a station platform in Essex. Katie Jarvis, 17, is a raw and compelling presence in every scene of Fish Tank, one of three British films competing for the Palme d’Or this year. But while the rest of the cast and the hotly tipped director Andrea Arnold soaked up the plaudits of the cinema world, their lead actor was more or less oblivious to the fuss over her debut. Related Links

* Fish Tank at the Cannes Film Festival
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* Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank debuts at Cannes
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* Cannes causes a stir with Pixar and Tarantino
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