Title: Fish Tank
Starring: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender
Director: Andrea Arnold
I’d like to think I keep on top of all the indie films that are being released, but in truth I know that I’m not. Despite this fact, this was one film that I had to bump on my list. From the get go we see how important realism is to the film; it doesn’t force feed you the same tired lines of how difficult a life a single mother has, or of life growing up in a London estate and how testing it could be. These aspects are all present, but it’s the backdrop to the story, rather than the story itself. Likewise, in an almost documentary style of film, it isn’t concerned with defining a beginning middle and end; it has a grand purpose behind the meandering scenes, gently allowing you to learn more about the characters so that you can draw conclusions upon them, but will ultimately let you come to your own definition of what that might be.
The film focuses on Mia, an ‘unknown’ that wasn’t cast the role for her acting abilities, but rather for who she was; a high school dropout, discovered having a loud argument with her boyfriend across the platform at Tilbury station. To try to comment on her acting ability would seem a little futile as in reality she is Mia; the manner she walks and talks, how she reacts and behaves is presented in a realistic way because it was a genuine reaction; even withheld from their scripts until a few days before shooting, meaning the transitions that are gone through are as realistic as possible. From the mood swings and strops, she offers her mesmerising ability to play the aggressive loud mouthed character before snapping out of it and transforming into a more amicable mood without feeling disjointed. In fact, if anything it is done in a manner that is too realistic, with much of the dialogue and mannerisms that are common to me may well be foreign to others.
The rest of the cast perform their roles wonderfully, capable of providing the subtle nods and hints at tension that don’t require a separate piece of dialogue to make apparent. In particular Connor (Fassbender), the new boyfriend of Mia’s mother, succeeds in portraying a character that altogether seems too nice to be true, with a nagging feeling that something isn’t right which eventually reveals itself. This isn’t as dark or disturbing as it easily could have been, and it is this light-hearted attitude towards the subject matter that shows willing not to vilify and demean people in similar situations, nor try to overtly get the audience to pity them. It treads a fine middle ground, which rather than telling you what to think, or proffering the opinion of the director, asks the viewer to form their own.
But thus far I’ve been quite vague as to what this film is about – and intentionally so – as I’m apprehensive as to go into detail what I took from it. The main theme of the ‘Fish Tank,’ is on the surface, not a difficult one; like the fish, Mia is trapped by the estate, trapped with other fish barking away without respect for her, longing to escape however she can. We are casually shown her habitual drinking from the beginning, her desire to escape to her music so she can dance, even latching onto any new character from outside in the hope of escaping her own tank, if only for a little while. If Shane Meadows is the king of the docu-drama’s about the North, Andrea Arnold may well have taken the first step to becoming the Queen of the South.