Fish Tank (2009)

4 02 2010

Perhaps my strong reaction to this has something to do with the fact that it so narrowly avoids some every looming melodrama. Even if it did lapse into some of the “ultra downbeat poetry of its thematic brethren like Lilya 4-Ever and The Life of Oharu it would still have its unique mixture of poetry and Alan Clarke-inspired social realism to hold it above such films. I can still accuse it of being a bit over the top in how bleak its outlook is, but doing so would disregard the story’s complete arc, as it is one that ultimately is inconsequential. Of course, I mean this in the best possible way.

On paper, the story seems like perfect material for a Lifetime movie of the week. 15 year old Mia is suffocated by her simultaneously controlling and neglectful mother, as well as her foul-mouthed sister. She has no one to talk to, and thus her hopes and dreams, which mostly consist of becoming a hip-hop dancer, fail to come out to the open. Sound tacky yet? Well, it should and admittedly, there are more than a few scenes that could make one cringe, but please bear with me and the film.

Mia finally finds someone worth caring about in her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor. He allows both Mia and her sister to join in on a road trip. For a very fleeting moment, Connor seems to have successfully pulled everyone in the household together into a family. Things are looking up, but Mia is still resistant. Out of nowhere, she becomes extremely irritated with Connor, explaining that he doesn’t “know us” a reference to their “lower” societal status. Still, he is always interested in Mia’s endeavors, and he continues to support her as if he were her father.

Mia’s fierce resistance and Connor’s undying and sincere kindness creates an inevitable tension, though. It’s a tension that is barely noticeable, in fact, I was clearly convinced that I just had my head in the gutter when I thought of a physical relationship between the two. It’s obvious, in retrospect, but their glimpses of happiness together seem like the mushy postcard for finding a father figure on first glance. We feel for Mia and hope that this budding relationship remains fatherly and thus, platonic. Alas, it does not.

Following the awkward manifestation of their feelings, Connor leaves Mia and the rest of the family. As he is the only important thing to Mia, she follows him and discovers that he has already established a functional family of his own. In one what is quite possibly the most difficult and frustrating sequence of the entire film, Mia manages to convince Connor’s daughter (adorned in a corny, symbolic potential dress) to follow her. She wanders around the unoccupied landscapes behind the family house, and does so with seemingly no idea of what to do with this little girl. It’s such a frustrating scene because it plays out like a balancing out that is littered with melodramatic pitfalls everywhere.

I’ll try to explain the specifics of what happens next, as I fear I’ve already gone on far too much about the “plot” but I will say that it dodges all of the obstacles that could have turned it into another self-conscious female martyr art film (see Lars Von Trier) which would completely disobey the strict Alan Clarke-inspired photography. In an unexpected decision, Andrea Arnold and cinematographer Robbie Ryan have chosen to go the route of the academic 1.37:1 ratio. At first, it is frustrating, since the camera, which like the one of Clarke’s work, follows around Mia from behind, seems to be missing beautiful peripheral details. It kind of destroys any sense of perspective, but it does that by building up a narrow field of vision. I don’t intend to attach unnecessary symbolism to the film, but perhaps the tight compositions are the visual embodiment of Mia’s chaotic and violent mindset on life.

Needless to say, the movie does look wonderful, even if one can’t help but feel something is missing from each side of every frame. Perhaps it has more in common with Gus Van Sant’s recent work (which also has a heavy Clarke influence) than Clarke. Sure, there’s the whole “social realism” viewpoint, but the sensuous  visuals brings to mind both Christopher Doyle’s revolutionary work in Paranoid Park and his earlier, more saturated photography in Wong Kar-Wai’s films. This is all just a way of saying that this looks beautiful, amazing, and unlike anyother film I’ve ever seen. Seriously, picking screen shots may have been one of the toughest decision(s) I’ve had to make in months. Anyway, everyone should just see this already. It easily gets my vote for best film of 2009.



4 responses

5 02 2010
Allison Almodovar

Compared to everyone else in the film, the younger sister is about as foul-mouthed as everyone else. Nice thoughts though.

5 02 2010

I thought the ending was pretty bad, from the moment that the two have sex. The whole kidnapping was ridiculous, although at least without any clear goal. But inserting the shots of the harvester seemed like unneccessary scares.
And that dance had my eyes rolling.
Otherwise I enjoyed it a lot and was especially surprised that I didn’t find the hip-hop angle cringe worthy, as usually films have really bad hip-hop music and I cannot stand hip-hop dancing.

19 05 2010

Im not trying to embarrass you, but do you have any embarrassing guilty pleasures?

26 05 2010
Jake Savage

I don’t feel “guilty” about liking any movies, but uh a lot of people hate Gregg Araki’s NOWHERE and I think that’s one of the best movies ever.

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