Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender,
Running Time: 2 hrs 2 min
COMPLETE COVERAGE – 33rd Portland International Film Festival
Country: Great Britain
PLOT: Mia (Jarvis) is a street tough fifteen-year-old living in an English slum. When Mia’s loose, drunkard mother brings home a new sexy man (Fassbender), Mia’s world starts to shift.
WHO’S IT FOR? Indie fans who aren’t too bothered by nebulous pretension.
EXPECTATIONS: I had no idea what it was about, but I’m always game for a good indie flick.
Katie Jarvis as Mia: There is something fascinating about Katie Jarvis. Between her sylph-like body, her giant flower eyes and her jagged, tough-girl haircut, she looks like she stepped out of manga. I loved watching her. Jarvis doesn’t feel like an actor playing a part, so the film puts you in the icky position of unwilling voyeur. You want to snatch Mia out of that situation and give her a real chance at a stable life, but at the same time she’s reckless and frustrating. I would go out of my way to watch Jarvis in another film just to see if she can carry on the momentum.
Michael Fassbender as Conner: Conner is sexy and repulsive all wrapped into one confusing package, and Fassbender is an ideal choice. The first time you see him, he’s standing in a doorway, shirtless and leering. You can’t place him as either the good guy or the bad guy–he’s selfish and he’s realistic. We can’t even attach any comforting movie platitudes to him: he doesn’t learn his lesson, he doesn’t have a heart of gold, and he isn’t better for having made those mistakes. It’s easy to forget that Fassbender is an entirely separate human being from Conner, he’s that good.
TALKING: And here is where subtitles would have been really groovy. Everyone in this movie has such an immensely thick accent, it’s hard to understand what the hell is going on. It’s disorienting. One minute, everything is fine–While on an outing, Conner asks Mia to dance and she’s happily bustin’ a move, when drunkard mom staggers up and says something and then BOOM! The scene explodes into angry expletives and Mia storms off in a rage and it’s all very dramatic. “What just happened?” I asked my friend. He shrugged. None of us were that sure. So, maybe the writing was amazing and maybe it wasn’t. If I go strictly by what I picked up on, it was mostly teenage petulance and swearing. My favorite line was when Mia’s little sister calls after her, “Say hello to the rest of the world for me!”
SIGHTS: The plot is incomprehensible, but the movie is gorgeous. Katie Jarvis is phenomenal to watch and there are a goodly number of really inventive, beautiful scenes. When Mia dances for Conner, outlined by streetlights through a dark window, it is wonderfully sultry.
SOUNDS: Mia listens to a lot of hip-hop, so we get to hear it secondhand through her cheap stereo equipment. The rest of the movie is relatively silent and that’s for the best. There are a few extremely uncomfortable scenes made much more effective by the lack of a score. Whenever Mia is feeling something intense, the movie slows down a little and you can hear Mia’s heartbeat. It really works.
BEST SCENE: There is a good ten minute stretch near the end of the movie where you will not be able to breathe. It involves Mia and Conner’s young daughter and man, it’s taut. I don’t think anyone in the theater moved the entire time.
ENDING: Hopeful? Was that hopeful? Or was it just as big of a bummer as the rest of the movie? Is it hinting at the horrible bummers to come? Inscrutable.
QUESTIONS: What? Why did Mia just call that girl a effing c*nt and then head-butt her? Oh, you didn’t hear it either? Huh. That’s too bad–seemed pretty important.
REWATCHABILITY: I’d love to watch it again with subtitles, because I think I missed two-thirds of it. It’s bound to make more sense if I understand what everyone is saying.
Fish Tank isn’t intentionally bizarre, but it’s very secretive and hard to understand. Incongruous things happen all the time and they feel like they must have a lot of significance, but you can’t quite put your finger on what or why. When you know what’s going on, the movie can be extremely effective. Once I figured out that Mia’s mother was trying to send her off to some juvenile school it made sense, but until then I just wondered why Mia was so rude to the friendly lady visiting their apartment.
Fortunately the core of the story is constructed around the weird sexual tension between Mia and Conner and you don’t have to hear a word they’re saying to pick up on that. The chemistry between the characters is perfectly heavy and perfectly skeevy, and that is portrayed primarily through meaningful glances and body language. It’s sexy and it’s foul and it’s depressing and it’s beautifully filmed, but in the end, the “love story” is as guarded as the rest of the movie.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10