Amanda Mae Meyncke March 14, 2011
If you told me how Fish Tank was going to end before I saw it, I wouldn’t even have believed you. Shocking things are rarely shocking, like a horror movie that wants to scare you so much that it goes overboard with the shrieks and spooks. But sometimes, carefully built up over the course of a few hours, things happen in films that are so entirely unexpected and strange that you can hardly believe that you have the good luck to see them for yourself. Engaging, at times heart-stopping, strangely hopeful, and relentlessly fascinating, Fish Tank is the best and worst aspects of close-up voyeurism all tumbled together with almost no relief from the action.
15-year-old smart-mouth Mia (Katie Jarvis) lives in the Essex housing projects in England with her neglectful mother (Kierston Wareing) and volatile younger sister. The film follows Mia through her days filled with casual drinking, solitary dancing (she aspires to be a hip-hop dancer), and fighting with neighbor girls. Mia expects nothing of her life, and it is obvious that nothing is expected of her, until her mother’s new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) comes into the picture and begins to encourage her. As the sexual tension builds, Mia struggles to find her way into the confusing world of adulthood.
Once the film gets going, it’s almost impossible to stop watching, even if the phone rings or you need a Popsicle, so get settled before you start. Hyper-realistic in tone and feeling, director Andrea Arnold completely nails the particulars of this small world, and has an absolute eye for pacing. One of my favorite elements was that moments of importance to Mia lose all sound except for the quiet in-and-out of her own breathing. If only for a minute, that breath is all there is in the world. Other elements of the film are entirely shocking, and the resolution is hard won to say the least. Fish Tank is undoubtedly one of the most provocative films I have ever seen; I find myself thinking about it days after seeing it, though I’m not sure I’d want to see it again for a while.
Criterion is absolutely right to pick this 2009 film up, and the Blu-ray edition is gorgeous, though the subject material may not necessitate the Blu-ray treatment. Sadly, there are far fewer special features than I would have wanted, including nothing from director Andrea Arnold other than three of her short films, Milk (1998), Dog (2001), and the Oscar-winning Wasp (2003). Conversations with the director are often the most illuminating aspect of a film, especially on projects that were written and directed by the same person, providing depth that cannot be got at any other way. None of that to be found here, which makes me think that Criterion may have rushed this one through production.
What we do have is a video interview with Kierston Wareing, who plays the mother, and a brief audio interview with Michael Fassbender. Why no interview with the lead, Katie Jarvis? Both the interviews do give insight into the filming process, which was tightly controlled by Arnold to the point that she did not allow actors to see the entire script — instead they shot chronologically and were given their pages only a few days in advance. The essay by Ian Christie is interesting, though it left me wanting more. There’s audition footage, which is mildly interesting, and a stills gallery. But it’s really not enough. When someone makes a movie as good as Fish Tank, I want to crawl inside it for awhile, understand what makes it tick. Criterion usually does a good job of exhausting my desire to learn more about a film, giving me exactly as much as I want or more. Sadly, this release feels more like a starting point rather than a definitive edition.
Fish Tank is available now from the Criterion Collection.
Categories: DVDTags: Blu-ray, Criterion collection, Fish tank