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
Although the tone is relatively light throughout, the film is an enjoyable confection with Streep on especially fine form as a middle aged woman who finds her true calling in life whilst abroad. Adams, understandably, lacks the gravitas of her co-star but she still manages to make her character engaging as she struggles to find her way in life (and the kitchen).
The production design by Mark Ricker and costumes by Ann Roth capture the different time periods with aplomb and watching this digitally projected was at times a mouthwatering experience. It never reaches the food porn levels of something like Babette’s Feast but is still likely to have foodies drooling due to it featuring a lot of cooking and discussion about what we eat.
Sony will be hoping that female audiences will be turning out in force for this one, especially after Meryl Streep has become an unlikely box office draw in the wake of Mamma Mia! and it is likely to do good business despite being a very crowded week at UK cinemas. [Nationwide / Cert 12A / Previews from Sept 9th]
Momentum will be hoping fans of the book will be up for this but it may struggle to find a decent sized audience in such a crowded week. [Odeon Leicester Square & Nationwide / Cert 15 / Opened on Weds 9th]
Sorority Row (E1 Entertainment): Teen-themed horror about a group of sorority sisters try to cover up the death of their house-sister after a prank gone wrong, only to find themselves stalked by a serial killer.
Directed by Stewart Hendler, it fatures a cast of unknowns such as Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman and Audrina Patridge. Horror can still be profitable but I feel this may struggle to do big box office mainly because UK audiences have no idea what the word “sorority” means. [Empire Leicester Square & Nationwide / Cert15 / Opened on Weds 9th]
Adventureland (Walt Disney): A comedy set in the summer of 1987 which revolves around a recent college graduate (Jesse Eisenberg) who takes a job at his local amusement park, only to find it’s the perfect course to get him prepared for the real world.
Directed by Greg Mottola (who made Superbad in 2007), it co-stars Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Despite getting very positive reviews in the US it didn’t make a huge impact at the box office. It could do OK here, but I suspect it will find more appreciation and love on DVD. [Cineworld Shaftesbury Ave., & Nationwide / Cert 15]
Whiteout (Optimum Releasing): Based on the 1998 comic book of the same name, the plot involves a U.S. deputy marshal (Kate Beckinsale) assigned to Antarctica, where she must solve a murder three days before the antarctic winter begins.
Directed by Dominic Sena, it was produced by Joel Silver but appears to be dead-on-arrival with zero buzz and expectation. [C’World Shaftesbury Ave., Vue West End & Nationwide / 12A]
Miss March: Generation Penetration (Fox): A comedy about a young man who awakens from a four-year coma to hear that his high-school sweetheart has since become a centerfold in one of the world’s most famous men’s magazines.
He and his sex-crazed best friend decide to take a cross-country road trip in order to crash a party at the magazine’s legendary mansion headquarters and win back the girl. Another film lacking in buzz that would appear to be straight to DVD fodder were it not actually being shown in cinemas. The pitiful score of 7 (yes, seven) on Metacritic would suggest that it all is not well with this film. [Nationwide / Cert 15]
It won the Jury prize at Cannes back in May and Artificial Eye will be hoping for decent arthouse business after the mostly positive critical buzz it has got since then. The bleak setting may put off more mainstream audiences but this looks likely to find an audience and cement Arnold’s reputation futher. [Chelsea Cinema, Curzon Soho, Renoir, Richmond P’House & Nationwide / Cert 15]
The September Issue (Momentum Pictures): A documentary chronicling Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s preparations for the 2008 fall-fashion issue. Momentum might be surprised at how well this does given the amount of press it has got, so look out for a good per-screen-average and a decent chunk of business on DVD. [Curzon Mayfair & Key Cities / Cert 12A]
Morning Light (Walt Disney): A documentary about fifteen young sailors. [Odeon Southampton / Cert PG / Selected Key Cities from Sept 18th) Reckoning Day (Revolver Entertainment) [Key Cities / Cert 18]
Shank (Parasol Pictures): Low budget drama about a romance between a self-hating hoodie (Wayne Virgo) and a flighty French student Olivier (Marc Laurent) which explores such issues as class and criminal violence. [Greenwich P’House & selected Key Cities (Previews Bristol 18 July)
“Andrea Arnold confidently navigates the pitfalls of the ‘difficult’ second feature with ‘Fish Tank,’ which confirms her status as a torchbearer for the social realist traditions of Ken Loach and the Dardenne brothers.”
“The heartbreaking tale of a teenage misfit has a grim inevitability to the plotting which is offset by Arnold’s talent for multi-layered characters and naturalistic dialogue and her eye for finding the poetic moments in even the bleakest of lives.”
Brit helmer Andrea Arnold’s sophomore feature offers such an entirely credible and – there’s no way around it – grim portrait of a sullen teenage girl living in a rough housing project in England’s Essex that it almost seems banal.
However, what makes pic feel special is its unflinching honesty and lack of sentimentality or moralizing, along with assured direction and excellent perfs.
Paradoxically, though immediately accessible to auds from the background depicted, “Fish Tank” is destined to swim only in arthouse aquariums, while likely adult-only ratings will keep teens – who really should see this – from getting in the door legally.
Only Catherine Hardwicke‘s ‘Thirteen‘ and a handful of other films have dared to evoke so frankly the nature of teenage femme sexuality, as young women test their power with a mixture of precocity and naivete.”
Andrea Arnold’s Palme d’Or contender is a powerful film of betrayed love in a bleak landscape, powered by fizzing performances from Michael Fassbender and newcomer Katie Jarvis.
Fish Tank is a powerfully acted drama, beautifully photographed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who intersperses bleak interiors with sudden, gasp-inducing landscapes like something by Turner.
Arnold takes elements of tough social-realist drama which are, if not cliches exactly, then certainly familiar — but makes them live again and steers the movie away from miserabilism, driven by a heartfelt central performance.
The performances of Jarvis and Fassbender are outstanding and their chemistry fizzes — and then explodes. It is another highly intelligent, involving film from one of the most powerful voices in British cinema.
Dave Calhoun of Time Out thinks that it is another chapter in the rise of Arnold as one of Britain’s most significant new directors:
It’s hugely satisfying to report that ‘Fish Tank’ shows Arnold going from strength to strength, offering new depths of filmmaking while at the same time building on a view of the world and a way of telling stories that are distinctly her own.
She also coaxes a performance of extraordinary emotion from young British newcomer Katie Jarvis.
‘Fish Tank’ is another intimate portrait of a female character living on the margins of a city.”
The chops in Fish Tank are accomplished and impressive. Arnold, who directed and wrote, knows exactly what she’s doing — she’s the real deal as far as having a voice and a vision of life is concerned.
I liked that she and cinematographer Robbie Ryan shot the film in 1.33, which is usually a result of an intention or a deal to air it on analog TV.
Fassbender, a very hot guy now, is natural and believable, charming and genuine. Ryan’s hand-held camera work is unpretentious and the images are appropriately plain — i.e., naturally lit but not excessively grim.
It feels right all the way, in short, but it didn’t leave me with much save the quality of the work.