Finding Beauty, by Daniel Bergamini
Since I began writing films reviews, I have had a constant feeling in the back of my head that I was not critical enough. Too often I have had such a visceral joy after seeing a film that I was unable to see the faults within, leaving the review all too positive. As I recently decided I wanted to change that, I kept it in mind as I watched Andrea Arnold’s sophomore effort, Fish Tank. While I wanted to be able to write a more critical review, Arnold’s film, unfortunately, only gave me one more reason to write a positive review.
The film tells the story of a poor teenage girl, Mia, living in an Essex council estate with her single mother and little sister. To try to summarize the plot would simply be listing events in an order which would make the film seem tired and boring. The film is anything but that. The energy and beauty that Arnold is able to capture, leaves the audience both emotionally engaged and guessing where the film will go next. The story has been told many times before, yet this film feels entirely fresh.
As we first meet Mia, played by newcomer Katie Jarvis, we see a girl who feels entirely disconnected from the world. The few moments of joy come from secretly practicing dance in an empty flat. Her mother is more interested in her friends and partying than she is with her kids, who as we see, are in desperate need of attention. The film would simply not work without Katie Jarvis, who as the story goes, was cast when the director saw her in a screaming match with her boyfriend. The realism she is able to bring to the screen makes the film feel authentic.
It seems Mia’s life will never change, but when her mother brings home a new boyfriend, Connor, played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender, things seem to change. Connor and Mia appear to instantly connect, and Mia begins to open up. The interesting part of the film is not where the film goes, but how it gets there. The way characters react to certain situations is uniquely real, we may have seen these situations before, just not these reactions or consequences.
Too often, coming-of-age films set in poor or rural areas, use there surroundings as excuses for ignoring the cinematography and look of the film. Arnold’s eye for finding beauty within the most awful of situations is outstanding. From a visual stand-point, it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen. At first the choice of shooting the film in 4:3 ratio is distracting and slightly off putting, however once you become accustomed to this change, the choice is quite brilliant. The feeling of claustrophobia begins to mount as the suspense ramps up, and the aspect ratio has a large part in this.
It seems that a large percentage of my favorite filmmakers are the ones that are able to take the ugliest aspects of life and find beauty in them. That isn’t to say that they are making light of bad situations, but rather they can capture what is naturally beautiful about any location or situation. Like David Gordon Green and Lynne Ramsay before her, Andrea Arnold has become one of the few filmmakers who is able to capture such beauty. Fish Tank is a film that reminds me of why I write about film and love it more than any other art form. My goal may have been to be more critical of film, but Fish Tank proves that there are certain films that deserve only high praise.