Fish Tank was released in Great Britain in 2009. It went on to win the BAFTA for Best British Film as well as the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. IFC Films gave the the movie a limited theatrical run in early 2010. The Criterion Collection then added it to its roster, a prestigious honor. That and the well-crafted supplements on the disc make this one of the best DVDs of 2011.
Andrea Arnold wrote and directed this very compelling story about a female character the likes of which you rarely see. Her name is Mia and she's played by Katie Jarvis. Mia is a tough, hotheaded, teenage girl who is quick to throw rocks and pick fights. She is also quick to walk into dangerous situations. In a way, she's a female thug.
But, that's not all she is. When walking by an empty lot under a highway, Mia sees a horse chained to some kind of post. She's immediately drawn to it. Is it because she recognizes something familiar? Does she perhaps feel chained in some way?
Back at home, Mia lives with her mother and younger sister, Tyler. Her father is nowhere to be found. They live in a low-rent, high rise in an Estate just east of London. To say that they're poor would be putting it mildly. Poverty is invariably Mia's chain and as she tries to free the horse, she also tries to free herself.
She doesn't run away or commit crimes like a thug would though, at least not egregious ones. She breaks into an abandoned apartment and dances. Music and the movement of her body is her freedom. It's how she breaks whatever chains holds her down. It's interesting that this skinny, white, British girl chooses hip hop music and break dancing, but that's just Mia.
However, a wrinkle in her world is introduced in the form of her mother's new Irish boyfriend, Connor, played by Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds). Mia is listening to Ashanti and Ja Rule when Connor's shirtless torso appears. They exchange pleasantries but the sexual tension is intense. It is immediately felt by both. There is also a very interesting and seductive, point-of-view shot through Mia's arms that is reminiscent of the shot through Mrs. Robinson's legs in The Graduate (1967). There is a heat here.
This is not exactly like Mrs. Robinson going after Ben but reverse genders. That relationship was all about the gratification, about the uncertainty and pressures in life. There really isn't much of that here. For Mia, it's about showing her that there's more to the world than the enclave that she knows. It's about curiosity, the courage of exploration and the light of discovery, discovery of things that aren't necessarily new but new for Mia. Things like Bobby Womack or fishing in a shallow pond, things that also aren't grounded in her concrete reality.
But, what Arnold excells is documenting that reality. The way that she does is uncompromising but beautiful. The way she has her three female characters dance together to Nas' "Life's a Bitch" is raw elegance, or perhaps a rough elegance. Whether Arnold is observing a young man in silhouette doing back flips out in the open or observing the gyrations of women in a strip club, she conveys a rough elegance.
Of the great supplements or DVD bonus features, there is an interview with Kierston Wareing who plays Mia's mother. She talks of Jarvis' direction, how it's like Ken Loach, how she worked in continuity to the script, but how Arnold didn't give her the whole script but only it in pieces. The DVD includes audition tapes for the role of Mia as well as the first three films directed by Andrea Arnold, including Dog (2001), which in a lot of ways sets the tone for this one and her Oscar-winning short Wasp (2005).
There's also audio of Michael Fassbender during a Q&A in Queens, NY, for the Museum of the Moving Image's Pinewood Dialogue Series. Fassbender talks about how Arnold had no condescension on her part towards the characters. He was also impressed with her 2006 film Red Road, which I was as well.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.