There’ve been a string of films down my lane that primarily dealt with people, young people having to take in hand things that are a little big for them, and them having to deal with it, because although it draws in from the outside, the inside’s pretty much puke-material. And it’s been almost a couple of decades since I got to know this bunch of people called ‘elders’, who came up with nothing but what’s quoted above, although in less intricate ways, and what with the change in scenario these ‘films’ managed to produce, I kind of get this impulse that I might as well be counseled through my life than having to get myself into the mess the protagonists find themselves in.
‘400 Blows’ set the whole thing up. A film with a ‘hero’ for a change, the ‘dark horse’, dark because he’s made so, a by-product of social evolution towards neglect, of the woman of the house who’s not as concerned about her son as she is about the fact that he’s caught her cheating, and the whole thing is untidy, this whole process that makes the ‘hero’ of today, so chaotic that the blend’s not exactly what we’re looking for, in fact not even close. ‘Kes’ fought oppression and (again) misguided youth using an inanimate tool, a life outside life, a metaphor. ‘Havoc’ was bullshit, as confused as the characters, not sure as to what the whole point of the attempt was, ending up to be a puddle that you wouldn’t want to get your feet wet in. ‘Paranoid Park’ had me hooked, solely due to the fact that it was masterfully done, numb as it gets you. ‘Fish Tank’ falls in this line, with more or less the same outfit. Literally.
And this is where I trash it.
‘Fish Tank’ has Katie Jarvis in a role that could have sparked off an exhilarating career, of ‘Full frontals’ and ‘foul mouths’, and could prompt the men with the pen to jot her to be the ‘actor of the next generation’, and Michael Fassbender as the object of covet, a cause of heat and hatred between mother and daughter, sister and sister, with even the littlest one craving for physical contact and enjoying the same when it came her way. This is undoubtedly a very physical film, there’s a lot of emphasis on even the sound effects, the gasps are quite clear when working out and making love and it sure adds to the physicality of the whole scenario, not to mention the excessive flaunt of skin through low-waists and lingerie. It’s clear that Arnold wants the audience to end up as provoked as her characters, that she wants it shown that they’re no cruder than the rest of us who watch the film, and shamefully switch places when required. The mother looks sensual, is sensual, the daughter tries her best to keep her desire a secret, as much as she wants it known to the man, and the man on his part, tries to be his ‘dignified’ self. And there’s the mechanic, there’re the girls who sunbathe at the start of the film, and there’re the ones who dance it out subsequently, in flashy clothes. And it’s not an interplay of sexual beings, all the while: It’s rather a collection of ‘best-kept-secrets’ only to be unveiled as you ride along.
It would be a masterpiece if ‘Fish Tank’ was intended to be nothing but a radical modification of something as harmless as last year’s ‘Water Lilies’, but no: Mia (Katie) is intolerable, but can be explained. It’s only a question of social stratum, bird-cage apartments, parentage and portions of self that can only be a mystery. This colossal mixture, incidentally, is where the whole film fails, and there’s an incapability to substantiate. The focus is Mia and her family and the outsider Connor, and that’s about it. It’s a crucial blow, this neglect of not everything that contributed to Mia (which could round upon her mother and a paternal absence) but what Mia does to the world around her, apart from head-butt and dance hip-hop. It’s their household, the room Mia rehearses in, the tank, the garage and the malnourished horse, and there’s but one sequence where the world hits back at Mia for what she’s made of herself, the only spark in the dark. Interactions, otherwise, are null and the effect’s like that of the Addams’ Family, minus the hilarity.
It’s absurd as to how a film as personal and perverse as this could be compared to Truffaut’s ‘400 Blows’, which happened to be not just a film, but a movement as a whole. While ‘Fish Tank’ could be a movement in itself, a showcase of blatant realism or of absolute fiction narrated in a provocative way, it is plainly too narrow, for ‘400 Blows’ was about Antoine Doinel in the world around him. ‘Fish Tank’ is nothing but Mia. She walks, she dances around, she spies on her mother just to see her man get naked, she shamelessly complies when she gets her chance, just as he shamelessly abuses his, and everything contributes to the forgettable experience that this film is meant to be. A story that makes one yearn for intimacy, and loses head once that wish is granted.
P.S. As for comparisons of Arnold to the politically and socially sound Kenneth Loach, I wouldn’t want it out of my mouth that a certain Roger Ebert is, indeed, going senile.