Fish Tank -- Film Review

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CANNES -- Following her Festival de Cannes Jury Prize-winning debut feature "Red Road" in 2006, British director Andrea Arnold creates another vivid portrait of a woman in Competition entry "Fish Tank," in which newcomer Katie Jarvis gives a star-making performance as a disaffected teenager.

Co-starring Michael Fassbender ("Hunger") and Kierston Wareing ("It's a Free World"), it's a vivid depiction of a single mom (Wareing) and her two daughters living in a grim council flat on a decaying housing estate on the outskirts of London.

Destined for festival acclaim, the film will attract audiences drawn by Arnold's gift for unblinking observation and some wonderfully naturalistic acting, particularly by Jarvis, who is onscreen throughout.

She plays Mia, a foul-mouthed, aggressively violent and desperately yearning 15-year-old with a slovenly mother, a noisy kid sister (Rebecca Griffiths) and dreams of becoming a dancer.

Arnold presents the claustrophobic urban wasteland where they live as a breeding ground for anger and despair. The arrival of mother's new boyfriend, Connor (Fassbender), brings some hope due to his charming confidence and caring manner.

Mother cleans up the house and Connor takes the kids on outings and encourages Mia in her dancing. The director subtly foreshadows the events that follow and while they come as little surprise, they play out in credible fashion.

Only one episode of revenge late in the second half stretches plausibility, but it does not detract from the film's impressive power. With her "Red Road" crew of cinematographer Robbie Ryan, making skillful use of handheld cameras, production designer Helen Scott and editor Nicolas Chaudeurge all contributing sterling work, Arnold creates searing scenes that stick in the mind.

Besides the dancing element, she weaves in a thread involving Mia's compassion for an aging horse and captures the tiny moments of affection that provide the glue that just about keeps deprived families sane.

Fassbender and Wareing give honest and open performances as the conflicted adults and young Griffiths, another first-timer, is memorably sharp as the kid sister. The film belongs to Jarvis, however, and she makes the most of it with expressive features that convey Mia's mixed-up emotions from raging temper to sweet vulnerability. She will go far.

Festival de Cannes -- Competition

Sales: Contentfilm International
Production companies: Kasander, BBC Films, UKFC, Limelight
Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway
Screenwriter-director: Andrea Arnold
Executive producers: Paul Trijbits, Christine Langan, David M. Thompson
Producers: Kees Kassander, Nick Laws
Director of photography: Robbie Ryan
Production designer: Helen Scott
Costume designer: Jane Petrie
Editor: Nicolas Chaudeurge

No rating, 124 minutes