Friday, May 15, 2009

Fish Tank

Debuted at Cannes Film Festival yesterday: Fish Tank, directed by Andrea Arnold

Hard to find any US reviews of this, as it just got shown at Cannes, but this story of the relationship between a 15-year-old girl and her stepfather has been getting rave reviews from the Brits. While waiting for Fish Tank to be released over here, you might want to stick Red Road, Arnold's first feature, in your Netflix queue.

Update - Here's a much more thorough synopsis, from the TIFF website:

Andrea Arnold's pure, potent Fish Tank is many things: a taboo-breaking love story, a searing portrait of working-class Britain today, a film Ken Loach could have made had he been born a woman. But above all, her film is a girl's own fantasy. Arnold began exploring the precise perspective of a woman's desire in her terrific debut, Red Road. With Fish Tank, the view is broader and the focus even sharper.

Mia is a tough, wiry teenager with a mouth like a sailor and only one way to escape the brutality of her daily life: she dances, always by herself with her headphones on, and always to the point of ecstasy.

She has a lot to escape. Her mother is a bottle-blond party girl who favours skirts shorter than her daughter's, and men on the rough side. One day she brings home her latest catch, Connor, who is played by Hunger's Michael Fassbender. He soon proves irresistible.

Once Fish Tank sets its dangerous premise in motion, it observes its characters with generosity. The environment may be harsh, but Arnold's approach is lyrical, even loving.While the story goes to some dark places, Arnold never strays from her spare, beautiful aesthetic. Shooting in old-school 1.33 aspect ratio, she composes her frames with rigorous symmetry. The effect is to bring the simple order of a fable to the seeming chaos of Mia's life.

Even better, Arnold lets the sociology remain unspoken. The fact that Mia's mother must have had her as a teenager, that alcohol fuels so much of the characters' bad behaviour, that Mia adopts rage as a cover for more complicated feelings – these are left to the viewer to infer. Instead, Fish Tank focuses on getting the details of Mia's life right – contrasting her love of rapid-fire dance music to her mother's reggae and Connor's Bobby Womack soul, for instance – and on following her desire wherever it goes.

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