Fish Tank Andrea Arnold (UK 2009) Katie Jarvis; Michael Fassbender
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 19 Sept 09 ticket price £7.00
Text from Kyleland….
I am less convinced by Andrea Arnold’s (AA) Fish Tank than some. And the reason for this is that I think the drive underlying her narrative, the fairytale, is attenuated and almost destroyed, by overdriven and overdetermined concerns that are external and extraneous to her story. The movie lacks a full commitment to the endemic forces that are locked into the core of AA’s ideas.
Some might think of AA as a British Chabrol. But Chabrol has contextual certainty. AA looks like she has contextual certainty but this is to see her location choices as real rather than mythic. By this I mean that whereas Chabrol’s absolute knowledge of the place and culture generated by his locations, lend to his films an enveloping social carapace. For Chabrol locations are not just background for events: they are determining. In contrast, in relation to its settings and locations, AA’s Fish Tank (FT) is more like a postcard.
The backcloth setting of the high rise low rent estate is initially characterised by a specious funky realism. Evrifinks in yerface: the council flat, the private and public areas, the relationships, the interactions, the dialogue. As the story line develops, the realism is revealed as a simple set of props and gestures: the backcloth to a recast fairytale. And the fairytale is the source of AA’s filmic daemon. If Red Row owed its vision to Bluebeard’s Castle, then FT owes a similar debt to the Red Shoes. The which fairytale takes a cautionary approach to the joyous allure young girls feel towards dancing (alone); a thinly veiled allusion to the pull of sexual awakening being accompanied by the push of the dangers inherent in this state. The ‘estate ‘ for all its actual semblance, is no more real than the palaces and undersea worlds of Hans Christian Anderson. The estate is indeed fairytale land transposed. The danger for FT is AA’s casting of the film into a sort of cod realism relocates her story in Jeremy Kyleland. Which not only works against the energising force of the movie; but is not a very interesting place; we can go there every weekday between 9:00 and 11:00am (or to Tris if we want).
I think that the weakness in FT lies in an over elaboration of the story, exemplified by its tacked on revenge motif. It’s a post modern feminist coda that allows the female in the plot to take on the proactive role, but in so doing it stretches the fairy tale core of the film to a point where it finally loses its coherent urgency. It’s as if AA wants to interweave a series of consciously affirmative polemic statements into the fabric of her tale. I think that the consequence of this is to disassemble her film into a series of statements that flag up positions and concerns that abandon the vision.
In itself, the revenge coda that is the penultimate sequence in the film is wonderfully conceived and shot. But my feeling is that the form, in which it is finally resolved, adds little to the film. It functions like an appended text message: that Mia is a ballsy modern woman who takes life and its decisions in her own hands. But we’ve already seen this side of Mia in the horse episode. The revenge coda draws back from taking the path of an absolute filmic and mythic logic; that Mia’s abduction of Conor’s little girl should lead to the death of the child. Which outcome would have taken Mia from dance to death, and kept FT within the form of the fairy tale. The Red Shoes is a story which connects life death sex. But AA abandons the mythic for a kind of cod realism, the Brothers Grimm for Jeremy Kyle.
I think that in FT AA has made a film which is conceived and shot with passion and invention. The problem is that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Stories that become trite through tying up all the lose ends; and end up hung about with messages, don’t seem a necessary means for AA to express herself filmically.
If she has the vision, she has to trust in the inherent power of her material.