Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery said Charles Caleb Colton and he couldn't be more right; Andreea Arnold's movie Fish Tank (2009) might be in the same vein as Ken Loach's films, yet it is a poetic drama that shares with the viewer more than social realism. It is a story of attitude, love, humour and vulnerability that feels ruthlessly sincere, yet rewarding.
Mia's story is no fairy tale: she is a 15-year-old aggressive teenager, (Katie Jarvis) who abandons school, walks the streets, loves to dance, drinks as a hobby, swears, hits and rejects people. She leaves with her irresponsible mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and her younger smoking and drinking sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), in an underprivileged block of flats, in a poor neighbourhood. Joanne's latest boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender) seems to be a normal grown-up who shows some interest in her dancing routine and encourages her to follow her dream. Mia is obviously attracted to the man and soon enough a certain sexual tension builds up.
Mia's trials and tribulations lead her nowhere; she gets the dancing audition she has been practising for only to discover it is for an adult show, she attempts to get close to Connor only to find he is a manipulative, opportunistic man, she acts on her impulses only to learn there are real life-threatening consequences to her reckless actions. The movie feels like watching a fish tank where the future of the poor unfortunate creatures can only mean permanent entrapment or the possibility of being flushed down the toilet. Only this bruised brave little fish -Mia- chooses to leave the aquarium and end this rough coming-of-age story in an unexpected manner.
The newcomer Katie Jarvis is as genuine as she can be since she drew the director's attention while she was having a fight with her boyfriend in a railway station. She gives an honest performance of an angry, petty adolescent longing for human affection, yet rejecting any attempt to reach to her. She has a quick temper and a big mouth, starts a fight on the spot and does not care about the others or the repercussions of her actions- she drags little Keira through a muddy field, almost drowns her as this is the only way she can express her frustration and disappointment. Even so, Mia has no expectations and takes life's blows as they come, in a self-defending manner. Is there any basic humanity left in this bruised girl? Michael Fassbender's talent comes as no surprise to anybody; he is so convincing and charming that he makes it almost impossible to despise him as Connor. His character- that made me remember Peter Sarsgaard as David Goldman in An Education (2009)- is good-looking, tender, understanding, warm while easily melting down Mia's defence shield and getting to her. Their game of rejecting and giving-in is what makes the movie so powerful and heartbreaking.
There are some scenes in the movie that simply stir an ill feeling in you. Connor takes the three of them on a trip and he then attempts, with Mia's help, to catch a fish. After they do, Mia's foot is hurt and he takes her piggyback. He plays with her emotions only to reveal his true intentions later. In another scene, Mia breaks into Connor's house, rummages through his stuff only to find some painful images on his camera. Her eyes gaze into the camera in an expressionless manner while her breathing is getting heavier. She then squats and pees on the carpet, in the middle of the living room, like an animal who cannot control its actions.
So, Mr. Loach should feel flattered that a talented director such as Andreea Arnold skillfully took a social story and turned into a sensitive, dynamic, heart-wrenching, brilliantly acted film that won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and the 2010 BAFTA for Best British Film.