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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Fish Tank


Directed by Andrea Arnold (2009)

Andrea Arnold’s debut Red Road took her straight to the forefront of the latest wave of British film-making and her follow-up keeps her right there.

Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a 15-year-old hard-drinking, break-dancing, fighting girl destined for the pupil referral unit. She lives on an East London housing estate (in my old manor) with her rather harsh mum (Kierston Wareing), her sharp little sister (Charlotte Collins) and a dog called Tennents.

They are frequently joined by mum’s too-good-to-be-true boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender) who has got a proper job and everything and catches fish with his bare hands, tossing it onto the ground where it gapes and writhes through the last of its life.

“Is it dying?”

“No, it’s dancing.”

The world of Fish Tank is cramped and confined, physically and emotionally. Arnold matches the boxy flat where they live with a squarish screen like an old-fashioned telly. The family communicate in high volume abuse. When someone says "I hate you" they really mean "I love you".

But they are also able to communicate through through the medium of dance, and Mia sees her dancing as a way to escape to a better life. But this is not Billy Elliott. Fish Tank isn't so much about getting away as getting away with it. Arnold never lets her characters, nor her audience, off the hook.

Yet Mia thrashes at the prison of poverty, she makes the best of whatever she can get and she comes through with dignity. Not dying but dancing.


September 2009

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