Monday, December 14, 2009
Fish Tank ***
Director: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender
Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Jason Maza
Mia (Jarvis) is a fifteen year old living in the poorest part of Essex. She shares a small apartment with her mother Joanne (Wareing) and sister Tyler (Griffiths) with whom she doesn't get along well.
She dreams of becoming a dancer and spends hours listening to hip-hop, R & B and then practicing her moves in an abandoned apartment. She's a loner of sorts and in one of the film's first scenes we see her hitting a girl in the face for not inviting her to join her group.
Things begin to change when Joanne brings her new boyfriend Connor (Fassbender) home. "You dance like a black" he tells Mia when he catches her dancing in the kitchen, "that's a compliment" he clarifies.
Connor might be the first person who's said something nice to Mia in years and when he takes the whole family for a ride and then carries Mia to the car after she hurts her ankle, we just know where this is going.
Everything Mia does has the bigger purpose of helping her escape from the sad life she leads and everything writer/director Arnold does has the purpose of making us wonder how many times can Mia's heart be broken.
Arnold and cinematographer Robbie Ryan capture this woman's sad existence and encapsulate her existence into a fish tank of sorts, Mia's always looking from the inside out, longing for better things to come.
In an unsubtle metaphor for freedom she becomes obsessed with releasing a chained horse, kept in a lot by caretaker Liam (Maza) who she's convinced is actually starving the animal.
Arnold isn't very good with storytelling subtleties and overcharges specific moments with unnecessary details (a scene has Joanne dancing to a rap song that states "life's a bitch and then you die") but she proves to be great with actors.
Jarvis, in her film debut, is a naturalistic wonder that would make the Dardennes and Bresson proud. She makes Mia someone so mysterious that you have to wonder how much exactly has she gone through.
Even if her explosiveness is a force to be reckoned with, she's at her best in more introspective scenes where she just can't hide from herself anymore.
"You look nice when you smile" says the predatory Connor and he's right cause Jarvis has the ability to make Mia someone completely different with a simple mouth movement.
She does great work with Fassbender (quickly becoming one of the most interesting actors out there) who makes a seductive charmer out of Connor.
From the minute he appears onscreen we know he won't be good for Mia, but like her, we can't help but fall for his scheming. To the point in which we wonder how much exactly are we contributing to his plans.
Both actors have the one quality that the entire movie lacked which would've made it perfect: fearlessness.
Watch one scene where Connor puts Mia to bed. He carries her and takes off her shoes. She's awake and peeks to see what he will do next, when he takes off her pants as well she keeps quiet and we have to wonder if he knew she was conscious. This is the film's best scene and the one that encompasses its themes the best.
But Arnold chooses to rely more on forgiveness and in a latter panic inducing scene set in the Essex marshes, she gives Mia the redemption she deserves, but perhaps doesn't really need.