Fish Tank (Artificial Eye) is writer-director Andrea Arnold’s second feature-length film, and another deeply impressive piece of work after her Oscar winning short Wasp (2005) and Red Road (2006).
It is the tale of a teenage girl named Mia (Katie Jarvis) who lives with her mother and younger sister on an poor Essex housing estate.
Frustrated with her life and lack of options, things begin to change when she strikes up a friendship with her mother’s new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender).
Unlike many British films which feature aristocrats in period costume or gangsters who swear a lot, this takes what seems like humdrum material and does something really special with it.
Central to the film is the debut performance of newcomer Katie Jarvis who is magnetic in the central role, conveying the emotions of a disaffected teenager with remarkable clarity and sensitivity.
The story picks up with Mia having been expelled from school and spending her time drinking and practising her dancing in a derelict flat near to her family’s council flat home.
With her life spiralling out of control, things don’t look like getting any better when her mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) brings home a new boyfriend named Connor – but he seems like the kind of decent and encouraging person who can offer Mia hope and a way out of her life.
Part of the strength of Fish Tank is the way in which it subverts expectations of this kind of material. There are no patronising clichés of working class life and the material rested firmly on the two central characters, both of who are played with perfect pitch by Jarvis and Fassbender.
The final third of the film uncoils with a slow burning sense of unease as it is very hard to tell what is going to happen and the depiction of poverty in modern day Britain is sobering without ever being heavy handed.
Interestingly, Arnold and her cinematographer Robbie Ryan have opted to shoot the film in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio (so the frame is almost square) which is a rare sight in modern cinema.
Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) is the only film in recent years that I can remember using it, but it gives this a distinctive visual feel and tone which takes it into another place.
Proof that Andrea Arnold is currently one of the most accomplished directors working in Britain today, the film could see her move on to a bigger canvas and even more acclaim sooner rather than later.
Frustratingly, there isn’t a Blu-ray release at the moment (maybe Artifcial Eye’s budget’s are stretched?) but the DVD comes with the following extras:
- Andrea Arnold’s Oscar® winning short film ‘WASP’ starring Natalie Press & Danny Dyer
Fish Tank is out now from Artificial Eye
> Buy Fish Tank on DVD from Amazon UK
> Fish Tank at the IMDb