Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Discussing Fish Tank

I’ve been hearing about Fish Tank for months. More often than not, it was through the words of an enthusiastic reviewer of the film. In fact, a number of important people (important to me, at least) were generally positive about it  like Jose, Hatter, Tim, Nick. I’ve seen Fish Tank for some time now, but nothing’s coming. What is Fish Tank about? A sixteen year old girl, and would-be dancer, meanders through life culminating in a crush on her mother’s latest boyfriend. I can’t write about Fish Tank, or rather my issue with it without revealing plot details so SPOILERS ABOUND. Be warned.
I also can’t talk of Fish Tank without thinking about An Education – I film I fell for last year. Both films are directed by women, both focus on a sixteen year old Briton, both girls fall for older married men and both girls believe in the infallibleness of their brains. Of course, they differ in styles – completely. An Education sedateness (often mistook for unoriginality) differs starkly when measured againt Fish Tank’s shaky camera and general penchant to impose itself on us, almost like a real person. I don’t have an issue with the style, but truthfully I’m confused as to why Arnold’s choice of shooting in “real time” makes her such a wonder. To be certain, she is skilled equally as a writer and director, but she’s far from flawless on both counts. During the film, I was often moved to doubt the validity of these characters. It’s ironic, really, Fish Tank prides itself on being as authentic as can be but I often felt it to be just as pretentious, at times. Incidentally, it’s an issue I had with Precious - sometimes in her predilection for showing the harsh reality Arnold comes off (to me) as someone intent on shocking us and failing to attach it to any narrative progression. Furthermore, a particular scene in the marshes though ostensibly thrilling does nothing that makes it particularly necessary to the narrative as far as I see.
It’s crass to focus the entire review on finding fault with Fish Tank since it’s not wholly without accomplishments. Jose was quite enamoured with Fassbender’s performance, and he is good. But my issues with the narrative prevent me from being particularly moved by him. It’s to his credit, though, of the entire cast he’s the one who’s able to portray the most while saying the least. He has a knack for adroit facial expressions which few actors could profess to. We know what he’s up to even before he makes any noteworthy decision to do it. Moreover, he manages to prevent himself from becoming a villain just as Sarsgaard before him. In the same way, can we help but compare Katie Jarvis to Carey Mulligan? I suppose, you can assume where I stand on that issue – you’d be right. Jarvis does fine, though I never believe that she’s really interested in dancing – or Connor for that matter. Perhaps it’s an inclination of her character, but she seems unmoved by everything around her, a pivotal moment of tears towards the end leaves me more confused than moved. Incidentally, it’s Kierston Wareing who emerges as the cast’s strongpoint for me – even as she’s given little do, and all in broad strokes - trumping another similarly psycho mother. She’s not a caricature and underneath her pedestrian behaviour (in more ways than one) Wareing is carving a real character – just look at her final scene.
It’s weird, after Hatter’s review I said that despite all the good I’d heard I didn’t think I would like Fish Tank, but I couldn’t say why. I still can’t put my finger precisely on what doesn’t work for me, though I’ve tried. But despite my issue, it’s still a fairly good venture from those involved. I wonder how you’ll feel when you see it…
The lone mixed review I recall was Danny...
Sound off below, but remember I won't be responding to your comments until Friday.


Chase Kahn said...

I gave it "B" when I saw it in February, a solid, unspectacular grade for a film that I consider to be "good" yet problematic in fits and starts.

On the one hand, I loved the performances of Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbeneder, especially the latter seeing as how for 45 minutes, he put up a brilliantly ambiguous facade, enough so that by the time you place a finger on his intentions, it still comes a mild surprise.

For me, the portions of "Fish Tank" that ultimately won me over are the small moments that really call for praise on the part of Arnold. I love the creepy ambiguity of the "tuck into bed" scene, complete with P.O.V. shots - and the use of slow-motion and sound at key junctures brilliantly help us get into the skin of our confused teenage subject.

The prolonged scene that had me grimacing was the seemingly endless bout of melodrama involving a trip to Fassbender's character's home. ("Is this really happening?" I asked myself repeatedly.)

And a bit of the imagery is heavy-handed, simply going back to the title and the dirty-whiteness of a chained-up horse. (However, I thought that subplot eventually worked b/c of the relationship with the owner and the doubt as to whether or not the horse was simply old or neglected.)

Ultimately, I found that "Fish Tank" was a film about discovery, disappointment and acceptance - life's a bitch, and then you die.

(And by the way, I do love "An Education" and would rank that ahead of "Fish Tank," but the end of the former is a big road-bump for me because it's completely false - opposed to the latter, which I felt rang true.)

The Mad Hatter said...

Interesting piece - and I don't just say that for the name dropping.

I think sometimes when we're left perplexed by a film, that can be interpreted as a good thing. A film that we instantly dislike and bores us, we tend to dismiss and never come back to.

You seem curious about the direction of this film, the performances, and likewise its relation to EDUCATION and PRECIOUS. This tells me that while you might not be as head-over-heels as some of us're not exactly "done" with it.

To this I say let it rest, keep talking about it (and reading about it)...and perhaps come back to it down the line.

Jose said...

I know the film has its problems but when it does well, it really does a home run.
Compared to the films you bring up, I prefer it much more than Precious yet feel that its lack of romance makes it a bit unworthy of being placed next to An Education.
I mean, sure they have parallels but so do countless movies about young girls with big infatuations.
Now when compared to the exploitative Precious, this one DOES enjoy its power to shock but other than the marshes scene, it doesn't showcase these moments as the highlights of the movie.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

chase "love the creepy ambiguity of the "tuck into bed" scene, complete with P.O.V. shots - and the use of slow-motion and sound at key junctures brilliantly help us get into the skin of our confused teenage subject."
spot on on the excellence of that scene, i think it was jose who mentioned it in his review. and purely objective level (and that's tough for me because i love an education) the ending of fish tank is truer for our heroine but what becomes before is just confusing...

hatter i think i will rewatch it some time's an interesting one for sure...

jose true it doesn't go TOO exploitative like precious. sometimes arnold seems so confused, though.

Simon said...

Great rundown, I haven't seen it, but I can see the similarities between An Education.