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FISH TANK

Director: ANDREA ARNOLD

U.K. • 2009 • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 122 MIN


IF ANDREA ARNOLD’S GLASGOW-SET SURVEILLANCE THRILLER RED ROAD ANNOUNCED THE ARRIVAL OF A PROMISING NEW BRITISH TALENT, THIS IMMERSIVELY POWERFUL COMING-OF-AGE STORY CONFIRMS THE PRESENCE OF A MAJOR FILMMAKER.

Winner of the Jury Prize in Cannes, Fish Tank is shaped around brilliant newcomer Katie Jarvis as 15-year-old Mia, who’s feeling increasingly hemmed in by life on an estate where her supposed friends are pretty lame, her mum (Kierston Wareing) always has a new man on the go, and her wee sister’s an absolute pain. We certainly understand her frustration, but everything’s about to change when her mother brings home Connor (Michael Fassbender, thankfully filled out a little after the privations of Hunger). He’s kind, handsome, has great taste in music, and he really listens to her, encouraging her to work on her dance moves and make something more of herself. But he’s still her mum’s boyfriend.

Arnold’s script cajoles us into thinking we know where all this is leading, but life, of course, is messier and tougher than that. A combination of utterly vivid performances, a believably ordinary milieu, and a seemingly innate grasp of how and why human beings mess up in the way they do, ushers the story from somewhat scuffed innocence to fraught, increasingly sexualised experience. Superficially, it’s the sort of naturalistic working-class drama British directors do so well, yet Arnold’s collaboration with gifted cameraman Robbie Ryan brings a heightened visual expressivity, signalling how the film’s apparent spontaneity has actually been adroitly shaped for full-on emotional intensity. It takes a certain kind of mastery to bring that off — and here it is. — Trevor Johnston.

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