Fish Tank

Fish Tank ★★★★★

The next film to make me realize I would give my life to find the perfect coming-of-age story. And this one comes dangerously close...

I almost thought I wouldn't watch another straight-out five-star masterpiece before my summer vacation ended, but here we are. Andrea Arnold's sophomore film baffled me like only few films can do. Honestly I don't know where to start with this review, there's just too much to praise here, so I'm just gonna do it and you'l notice soon enough when I'm losing control.

First of all let's take a dive in the story. In Fish Tank we follow 15-year old Mia who, as any wel written teenager, has the drive of a psychopath to reach those goals in life that seem greatest to her. This mainly includes finding love, acceptance and, most of all normality, next to a job in dancing, not just her favorite pastime but her fucking heart and soul. If she isn't dancing she is at home with her lazy mother who has a serious problem raising Mia and her equally lazy/aggressive/uncontrollable little sister. If that doesn't cause enough trouble, her mom's also fooling around with a seemingly random hot-shot who Mia gets a crush on. With these four characters we tumble into the tightly confined spaces of Fish Tank where we will see both the hardest cliches of the coming-of-age genre and the most revelatory moments in that same specific branch of the storytelling spectrum.

The set-up may seem a bit cliched, a girl trying to break out of a place she doesn't fit into by any means necessary, but the fact that we get some pretty contradictory moments keeps us guessing till the very end. She may want to leave her retarded mom and sis behind, to go live a more carefree life with all the things she loves, but as soon as she realizes she loves those things, the dancing, the boys, she realizes she does have a sweet spot for those other things to, a (rather) safe home, someone trying to keep you in school, a warm fucking bed! This insane character contradiction is something that any great coming-of-age drama should have as it basically is what makes the genre what it is. Just like I mentioned in my Mustangreview, there isn't a right or wrong way to handle these borderline insane feelings that teenagers go through. Both sides are right and wrong sometimes and the hard part of growing up is finding that middle way. That's what the whole struggle in these complex stories is all about: finding the solution to a seemingly unsolvable puzzle of uncountable emotions. Arnold wrote a script for the ages that shows just where these constraints hit and miss and how it affects both sides of "the battle". But in the end, and I do really mean the end, the last third of the film or so, the story becomes a tad bit weaker. It's hard to finish of a story as whirlwind-, excuse me, hurricane-like as this one, but it just slows down a bit too much and the incredible tension that was so apparent in the first two acts, although still clearly tangible, takes a bit of a backseat to a slightly (like really fucking slightly) rushed in ending. So technically I'd give the script a 4,5, but fuck me, that's still a 4,5. There's nothing really wrong with it. It hits the right notes and it hits them perfectly, but there are some aspects of this film that elevate it even more...

KATIE JARVIS!!! MICHAEL FASSBENDER!!! The whole fucking bunch to be truly hones with you... These actors give their fucking soul! I just couldn't find a single frame in this film where Jarvis just didn't show THE. FUCKING. PERFECT. EXPRESSION. Her eyes are actors of their own! When she screams she hits you in the face with her plain brutal language, but when she just silently observes all the mishaps in her life and those of her family and you just see those eyes twitch around, blink or just focus with the utmost intensity... it just nearly made me cry, man!! Fuck, she played this so 5/5, 10/10 (see, I don't even have actual adjectives for it) that it even made me feel like I was falling in love with her. I swear, at some points, when she changed from the adult minded, make-up misfit doll of a growing and ranting adult into the childishly quiet observant behind a little pillow, stripped of of her tough look and with her hair down, showing her au naturel innocence that still wakes deep inside of her, ready to be broken apart for good, that's when I just felt in love with her. Not necessarily her character in the film (although maybe) but just her persona, her as a human being with the perfect air of reality that humans have floating inside, outside and around her.

Shite, and we still need to begin with Fassbender...
In Fish Tank one of his many breakout roles (for some reason we can't really pin down where it all began), he plays the suave, cool dad/friend/boyfriend/mentor that Mia never had the chance to have. He guides her by acknowledging things that no other person around her dares to see and he shows her, in many different ways, the love she never seemed to have. But just like with all the other character (and yes, I love pointing this fact out to you) he isn't perfect. In Fassbender's Conor we find the second great piece of character contradiction in this film that creates the exhilarating third act of the film. Yeah, the more I think and write about it, the better it gets. Maybe five stars for the script after all...

Now, the only thing I'd like to mention next to the wonderful script and the insane acting, is something that seriously amazed from the first few seconds right up until the end. As many probably already know, Fish Tank is mostly shot with a handheld camera, to creep into Mia's life as close as possible, to run with her through to the streets of Essex and to shake along with her outbursts of relentless anger. But she plays with another, possibly often overlooked aspect of the cinematography that for me made this film even more powerful than it already was. I'm taling about the focus. It may actually sound a little meta but just as Arnold keeps a very tight look on where she focuses in her story, what elements she shows and tells and what not, so does the camera. It isn't just moving along in the chaos of the story it's also showing what the story itself focuses on by actually focusing on these things by either focusing on it or keeping it vague and shifting the focus to the background. Confused? Rightfully so, but let me give an example. In the very first scene, the introduction of the character of Mia is made by first showing her dancing. This is all done by focusing on her, her body and her dance. After that she calls her friend in her usual way, by simple, short rude comments. But while she does this, we only see her back and the focus is on the city of Essex, outside of the window, in front of her. In these few short minutes, we already learn so much about her by some very precise storytelling. We see her intense passion for dancing, we hear how she talks to the world and at the same time we see what this world exactly is that's she's dealing with. And this isn't the only moment, the film is filled with such scenes. We see her eyes gaze over the edge of the edge of a couch, we see her look at her pants being softly pulled from her legs. We basically see what we need to see and not much more. We don't get spoiled. We don't need to. We see exactly the story that has to be told in the way it has to be told.

To finally finish this of I'd like to give a small mention to the aspect ratio. I don't do that too often but I feel that it is pretty important with this one. Arnold opted for a 1.33:1 ratio. Nothing special on itself, but with the aforementioned way of filming, with the whole handheld madness and pure as fuck focus on the beautiful deconstruction of the coming-of-age genre, it gives a beautifully cramped feel that only makes the film more confronting. It's not as claustrophobic as the 1:1 of Mommy, but it doesn't have to be because it is its own unique thing. It's perfect in almost every sense of the word.

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