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Entries in Fish Tank (4)


Distant Relatives: The Graduate and Fish Tank

Robert here w/ Distant Relatives, exploring the connections between one classic and one contemporary film.

Sedentary and Sex

So what do a rough and realistic look at poverty in London and a comedy set in the suburbs of California have in common? Well at first glance both are about the events that lead up to and follow an inappropriate relationship. For many reasons, the cinematic arts naturally drift toward stories of forbidden sex. They allow filmmakers to explore the human condition in areas that lend themselves to lack of control. They're filled with all kinds of drama and conflict. And of course sex gets people to sit and watch. But there's more to it. After all, with all of these films about forbidden sex out there, why these two that seem so different? In both The Graduate and Fish Tank, the inappropriate relationships aren't really the problem. Well, they are eventually, but initially they're just a symptom of something greater. Both films have protagonists filled with agitation, ennui, longing, and the desire to do something, anything greater than what they're doing now. And both films postulate that this puts them on the easiest possible path to seduction.

In 1967 The Graduate became a hit because as all we all know, it spoke to an entire generation. But it didn't speak to a generation because every young person in the 1960's was familiar with boinking their parent's friends. Ben Braddock, the titular character came back from school to a safe suburban existence where everyone had unique opinions on what he should be doing with his life. Yet all of these opinions came from people with lives to which he did not aspire. Benjamin's potential seemed endless yet all paths pointed to an undesirable future. Fish Tank's Mia (Katie Jarvis), although an ocean and a continent away and on the opposite spectrum of the class divide finds herself in a similar situation, however she doesn't have the benefit of unlimited prospects. At fifteen, Mia doesn't have much of a future at all. She doesn't like her mother and doesn't want to become her mother, but there doesn't seem to be too many other options. She's not one for academic pursuits and mostly dreams of being a dancer in a non-specific way.


No Someday. No Rainbow.

With Benjamin and Mia adrift, the idea of a promising future slipping further and further away, they turn their attention to the possibilities of the present. Enter someone older, desirable, representative of impulsiveness and rebellion. Both Benjamin and Mia have a need that requires filling. Love and affection? Maybe. But more so a desire to be distracted from their hopeless future, perhaps even a need to be destructive, to have some ownership over a future already in shambles by being careless and responsible for its destruction themselves.

Then there are the seducers. The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) is the epitome of aggressiveness. Fish Tank's Connor (Michael Fassbender) is more subtle. Then again he has to be. A movie about a fifteen year old girl being seduced by an older man has to be handled differently than a film about a male college graduate being seduced by an older woman. An aggressive Connor would have immediately upped the suspense and diminished the realism. But in both films, it doesn't take much for the deed to be done. Yet once Benjamin and Mia realize that their older suitors are still representatives of their ugly futures, they realize that they can't be a part of them. Ambiguous endings abound, though there is the sense that our protagonists have learned something. Been used to be sure, but reset onto a better path? Or do they, in the words of The Graduate director Mike Nichols "become their parents?"

If you still think the comparisons are a bit trying, consider the title of our modern film: Fish Tank. It suggest being both submerged and imprisoned at the same time. It's a clear effective metaphor, and one that The Graduate would know something about too.


Other Cinematic Relatives: Lolita (1962), Beau Pere (1981), Fat Girl (2001), Notes on a Scandal (2006)


Mix Tape: "California Dreamin'" in Chungking Express & Fish Tank

Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr here, with a special Mix Tape double feature.

Although released over a decade apart, Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express and Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank (one of last year's best films) have a shared emblem for their characters' longings and frustrations: The Mamas and the Papas' song "California Dreamin'," a staple of classic rock stations that has taken on a cultural life of its own.

In Chungking Express, it's the anthem for lonely waitress Faye (Faye Wong) as she fixates on an equally lonely policeman. In Fish Tank, the impoverished Mia (Katie Jarvis) wants to use Bobby Womack's cover version for her ill-fated dance audition. These women come from radically different places -- Hong Kong and eastern England, respectively -- but they still each dream of a "California."

After the jump, one song seen from two very different perspectives...

Click to read more ...


20:10 Trashy Trashy Trashy

Screen captures from the 20th minute and 10th second* of 2010 films as we close out the celluloid year by February's end.

"so baby if you want me | you've got to show me love. ♪ ♫"

Trashy Mom: I'm havin friends around later. I need you to stay in your rooms or get out. No kids --  the pair of ya!
Loud Preteen Daughter: What makes you think we want to hang around wi' your friend anyway? All those winos and skanks!
Sullen Teen Daughter: [silence]

I'm not sure I could pinpoint exactly why but I love Kierston Wareing as the single mom in Fish Tank (her angry daughters are going to grow up to be just like her) but maybe it's the absence of malevolence in her, just naturalistically portrayed selfish skankiness. She isn't out to hurt her children like so many terrible screen parents. She's just completely ill suited for the job.

Here's a great writeup of her performance at My New Plaid Pants. If you haven't seen Fish Tank, get right on it. It's so good. [See also: Nathaniel's 2010 Top Ten List.]


*I can't vouch for the time stamp damnit (!)  as my two DVD players don't seem to line up timing wise. Argh. I love this series but I need it to be exact for OCD's sake.


Best of 2010: Prophets, Toys, Fish Tanks and Rabbit Holes

Previously: Honorable Mentions
(Short on time so the second half has to wait. Apologies.)

Part 1
The Film Experience loves nothing more than being transported by the movies. The year's top dozen (a baker's dozen) took us deep inside French prisons, soared over Viking villages, danced into British projects and stumbled into Australian crime dens. This year's best films wandered 'round places both far flung (wealthy Italian estates) and right next door (New York City's Lincoln Center wherein a certain ballerina frets and pirouettes and transforms).


Wherever the year's best took us, we wanted to go. In fact, we're ready to go again. Just let us grab that unpublished manuscript and a treasured childhood toy for the journey. And, oops... just -- updating facebook status. Okay, now we're ready. Let's go!

[mild very vague spoilers on The Ghost Writer and Fish Tank]


Un prophète dir. Jacques Audiard
[Sony Pictures Classics, Feb 26th]
Last year's shouldawontheforeignoscar contender treads excessively familiar ground patiently, biding its time. Malik (breakthrough sensation Tahar Rahim) may be a criminal savant but Jacques Audiard is the alpha dog in this dank dangerous racially charged prison (and outside of it as well). The French auteur's always expressive cinematic voice makes full use of both image and sound. They flicker and pulse as if in whispered conversation, haunting each other with their most awful details. Malik's horrifying character arc from remorseful killer to skilled death-dealer is so gradual that you're as surprised as he when you fully grasp the new criminal ecosystem when exiting this prison.

Toy Story 3 dir. Lee Unkrich
[Disney/Pixar, June 18th]

This latest and hopefully last Toy Story adventure expertly capitalizes on nostalgia for itself. (Please don't make another one Pixar as you'll taint the beautiful full circle affect of this one.) Scene for scene TS3 is maybe both the best comedy and the best tearjerker of the year.  The only reason it's not in the top ten -- shush, I realize it's supposed to be -- is that its deep comforts and emotional potency are inarguably the product of 15 years of other movies and cozy familiarity with the characters. Its considerable charm and four hankie finale is not exactly derived from this movie itself. In other words, it's got an enormous advantage over practically everything else that came out in 2010. It's like when everyone declared the end of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith so epic and moving and pretended that the movie didn't suck while it borrowed its emotional affect from the Force being with us for 30 years. The difference here (he quickly adds) is that Toy Story 3 is a marvelous movie in its own right: inventive, hilarious, beautifully staged.

Rabbit Hole dir. John Cameron Mitchell
[Lions Gate, Dec 17th]
This is a refreshingly unhistrionic portrait of grief and those are rare beasts. Its unassuming strengths, and maybe that hushed release in the noisiest of movie seasons, might be the thing(s) preventing it from breaking out. Which, come to think of it, is reflective of Becca herself (a great Nicole Kidman) as she's always getting in her own way. David Lindsay-Abaire's expert screenplay gets so many things about grief right. It understands that those most in need of comfort often push it away, it gets the way righteous anger leaks out as freeform hostility, and it sees that strangers can offer clarity and windows to healing that loved ones, with their messy intimacies, cannot. This might not sound like fun but it's sometimes bracingly funny. Rabbit Hole begins with a shot of Becca opening a bag of soil while she tensely gardens. Mitchell's sensitive direction and the fine cast do the work, but they trust you to notice their eventual flowering.

Top Ten List 

How To Train Your Dragon
dir. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
[Dreamworks, March 26th]
Here's to happy miracles. When was the last time you saw a movie boy rewarded for using his smarts and intuition and accepting his peaceful nature? When was the last time the hero of an epic was a pacifist rather than a warrior? I won't hold my breath waiting for the answer. (Gandhi?) How to Train Your Dragon figures out how to have it both ways of course (this is mainstream cinema) and like Tangled, it trips on nervous bids at popularity: why do the kids speak with modern American snark while all the adults have Scottish accents? I haven't a clue! But its flight sequences are as magical as Avatar's and Toothless, the dread Night Fury is a brilliantly executed character. This is a personal choice but this movie arrived in my life right when I needed it. Our top tens ought to be a personal, else why make them? Dragon might be the best hug-your-pet movie since Babe (1995); it's not perfect but that'll do.

The Ghost Writer dir. Roman Polanski
[Summit, March 19th]
We never learn the name of the ghost (Ewan McGregor) hired to shadow and write about a politician under investigation (Pierce Brosnan) and why should we? The movie also plays it coy. Polanski's amazing sleight of hand alternately flashes us a political satire, a nihilistic comedy, a murder thriller and maybe even a drama about having a really shitty job for which no rewards or public acknowledgement will ever come. The Ghost Writer has memorably sinister interiors filled with sharp angles and splashes of blood red color. The exteriors are no safer as the endless stormy weather, slick streets and bodies washed ashore portend. Can a whole film be a red herring? It all builds towards the year's most brilliant ending, a vanishing act, a negation.

Fish Tank dir. Andrea Arnold
[IFC Films, January 15th]
Arnold's sophomore feature follows an angry British girl Mia (Katie Jarvis) around in her grim daily life as she hates on her family, picks fights with the neighbors, crushes on her mom's new man (Michael Fassbender, predictably excellent), and dreams of becoming a professional hiphop dancer. There are plentiful movies about downtrodden inarticulate characters each year but few this acutely observed. Even when Fish Tank risks going off the rails by willfully slamming into metaphor (the horse) or veering towards the edge of genre territory (an abduction) it works a peculiar beguiling magic. Just when you think the movie can't possibly resolve the gangly awkward impulses of its teen protagonist towards any satisfying conclusion, it stages a farewell dance that's both perfectly surreal and absurdly mundane. Wow.