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Starring: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Jason Maza

Director: Andrea Arnold

Writer: Andrea Arnold

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

Original Score: N/A

Running Time: 124 Mins.

The British film industry could, in a rather crude way, be reduced down to two types of film, the gritty kitchen sink drama or the Richard Curtis style rom-com, neither I find particularly endearing though while Curtis’ output is in a lazy way very enjoyable Friday night/Sunday afternoon fodder, you seemingly need to be a critic or a film student to take anything other than depression from the former, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh are the big names in this field, and now I can safely say Andrea Arnold falls nicely into that bracket as well. Though for my money she has far more scope and ambition than either of those aforementioned grim directors.

Fish Tank, which is Arnold’s second feature, took away one of the top prizes this year at Cannes, something which  would seem to indicate the market the film will appeal to, in fact that very same market I talked of above, but in truth there is much much more here than the grim interiors of council estates and the goings on inside them, the Fish Tank of the title refers to the estate itself and the environment the lead character exists in, stuck looking out towards a much more appealing and largely better world she skirts around the fringes of in her “Fish Tank” throughout the film, looking for escape but apparently unable to find one.

Her apparent saviour though seems to come two-fold, in the dancing she locks herself away to practice, with hopes of using it as her way out and the boyfriend of her mother who she can’t quite fathom. It is in the relationship between he (Fassbender, exceptional as ever) and her (Jarvis) that is at the heart of the narrative, though the usual stock characters are present and correct, bratty sister, slutty mother, pikey friends, ir is Fassbender and Jarvis who take their scenes and provide the dynamite of good acting. Jarvis is, quite shockingly, a newcomer (and was chosen by the director after seeing her argueing at a train station with her boyfriend). Yes she can argue with the best of them but it is in the quieter scenes she shares with Fassbender which are quite simply brilliant, acting of this calibre is not commonplace and certainly not from a newcomer.

As the film progresses the relationship between the central pair becomes more and more complex, raising many questions, does she see him as a father figure? Or does she have a crush on him? Is he as genuine as first appears and what are his intentions towards her? Are they father/daughter feelings, or as some instances would suggest, much more? This is not an easy subject to tackle, yet Arnold does so with great dignity, never putting us in aposition where we dislike or judge either person, and never making it seem as black and white as this type of film and situation can become.

The film’s other great strength, and that which suggests Arnold is as good a director as she is a writer is in the depiction of the council estate against the backdrop of the beautiful countryside, and later in the film the depiction of suburbia as somewhere that Jarvis should never have ventured, only here does the film take a somewhat strange turn, piling on the dread as secrets are revealed and steps taken that scare and make you wonder what kind of depressing end we will end up at, thankfully we are provided with a glimmer of hope in a heart shaped balloon rising from the council estate. Somehting that seems to define not just the attempt at something upbeat amongst all the confusion and mess, but also the directors visual prowess.

VERDICT

Director Arnold has assembled something quite special in Fish Tank, proving she is as adept at writing as she is at directing bringing out a stunning performance from newcomer Jarvis. Not as depressing as you might expect but challenging viewing none the less without becoming full of pretense.

grade-b+

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