IN THE CRITIC’S CHAIR | Fish Tank

 

On its release in 2010, Fish Tank was received with exhilaration bordering on relief: here was a British kitchen sink drama that drew purposefully on the genre’s legacy while reinvigorating it for a new, complex era. It introduced the world to Andrea Arnold, a director capable of handling complex protagonists and sensitive issues with deft, lyrical film-making. It remains a benchmark for British film-making of any kind. 


Fish Tank’s architectonic portrayal of the psyche of its young protagonist, Mia, was picked up by A. O. Scott in the New York Times

[Mia] moves with such speed and fury that she seems to be trying to flee not only from her bleak surroundings but also from the movie itself. The narrow, nearly square frame boxes Mia in, and Ms. Arnold’s on-the-run hand-held tracking shots increase the sense of panicky claustrophobia. 


Beth Biket, in Little White Lies, noted the quiet power of the camerawork in expressing Mia’s complex perception of her mother’s boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender) – like an inversion of Lolita’s uncomfortably immersive first-person narrator:

Arnold’s camera trails across his body with a fixated gaze, initiating what doubles as sexual tension and a simple craving for touch throughout the rest of the film. 


For Roger Ebert, Kate Jarvis’s powerful performance as Mia, carries the film:

In a film so tightly focused, all depends on Katie Jarvis’ performance. There is truth in it ... She is a powerful acting presence, flawlessly convincing here. 


Fish Tank
tells a surprising story. Joe Morgenstern, in the Wall Street Journal, praised Arnold’s directorial control:

[T]his remarkable film dispenses plot information like a slow-release tablet dispenses active ingredients.


Arnold's method of revealing the script to her cast day by day during the shoot is unorthodox. David Denby, in the New Yorker, speculated on the implications of this approach:

From scene to scene, Fish Tank has a volatile sense of discovery … Arnold, of course, knew where the story was headed, and I think she achieved what she wanted – to convey a sense that the narrative would break apart at any moment even as it was sailing; not serenely but steadily, toward its destination.


Fish Tan
k is not a sunny film, but it also refuses to be unrelentingly bleak: it’s characterised visually by a lyrical, affectingly recognisable beauty, which, as Peter Bradshaw observed in the Guardian, is almost painterly:

Arnold and her cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, conjure some glorious, almost Turner-ish images of the Essex countryside, with its racing summer skies.

 

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