Editor, U.S.; Los Angeles, California (@filmbenjamin)
Stepping into the shoes Lynne Ramsay has left rather empty for the better part of 5 years, Andrea Arnold could now be considered the reigning femme heavyweight of UK social realism/ kitchen sink drama; Those doc inspired films of the working class that Ken Loach etched into the cinematic vocabulary in the late 60s with the likes of KES, and in more recent years wherein Shane Meadows has found a strong voice.

But Arnold is neither a Loach, Meadows, and is no where as lyrical as Ramsay. With her second feature, FISH TANK, she establishes herself as a visceral yet humane filmmaker with a knack for flowing, natural narratives, and stark, x-ray like visuals, that establish character and mood in seconds while still being incredibly ambiguous.
Ironic then that FISH TANK's story is a conventional at-risk youth tale which populates any number of festivals each year.

Here is how the basics read:

15-year old Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis) lives with her party-prone mother and foul mouthed kid sister in one of those abysmal English housing blocks. She's angry, something of a loner, and has aspirations to be a hip hop dancer. When Michael Fassbinder's Connor, mom's new beau, enters the picture, a taboo flirtation begins.
It is Arnold's choice to not be judgmental of these people, to not turn the film into something about their condition and their social context that ultimately supports and elevates her paint-by-the numbers story.

This is Jarvis' film by a long shot. While Fassbinder is charming and confident, never coming of as a creep, Jarvis' Mia stalks through the frame with a tenacity and lust that is hypnotic.
An untrained actor - she was discovered yelling at her boyfriend across a train station platform - Jarvis gives a raw, strung out, hopped up performance that never lies. Nominated for a British Independent Film Award and a European Film Award, she certainly deserves the attention, even if it isn't really anything we haven't seen before.

Shot in the classic, yet somehow refreshing 4:3 ratio, Robbie Ryan's cinematography runs the visual gauntlet, altogether breathtaking and decrepit in its suburban decay. Arnold and editor, Nicholas Chaudaurge, shape Ryan's work into textured long sequences, where cutting is frequent, but the flow of time is never halted, natural to a fault, and yet at moments slows down to an almost surreal, lethargic dream waltz.

In turn the camera doesn't trail Mia as an omnipotent, outside being. It is a true extension of her perspective and desires.

Coming off a strong European run, with a bevy of awards, IFC releases FISH TANK in the United States, limited on January 15th. It releases on Region 2 DVD January 25th. For Jarvis and the mesmerizing team up of Arnold and Ryan, it is certainly worth a watch.
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