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One on One | Fish Tank Friday

by Brandon Edmonds / 21.10.2011

Fridays are One on One day at Mahala. One scene, one song, one image, product or design that’s made a real difference to you with its power, originality, brilliance or emotion. Tell us why it matters. Convince us it changed your life. Show us why we need to experience it for ourselves. Send yours in and we’ll publish the best. Up to 400 words. The best one each month gets R500 bucks. There are no rules. Write it how you want us to read it. Get involved.

Brandon Edmonds kicks us off with a scene from Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank about a 15 year-old girl stuck on a council estate in Essex who just wants to be free.

By the time we get to the scene where Mia dances with her mum and sister to Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch” (off 1994’s astonishing Illmatic CD), we’ve seen the family fight and not connect and not be there for each other for the whole movie. They talk in sweary bursts of animosity and look right through each other and behave with as much fuck off alienation as their surroundings. A blunt landscape of post-industrial nothingness crammed with cheap flats and shitty options where kids suntan like superstars, drug dealers wait in stairwells and teens roam in packs. Where grown ups drink too much, fuck with the door open and treat responsibility like they treat themselves, badly. We’ve watched Mia head butt a girl, try to steal a horse, sleep with her mother’s boyfriend, and use an empty flat as a place to get drunk and practice a heart-breakingly basic hip hop dance routine she hopes will get her name in lights. Or something. But we know that’s never gonna happen. And the film knows it too. Very few films get young women right. They miss the confusion, the rage, the vulnerability. It’s either cartoon sexuality (Sucker Punch) or shallow cool (Juno). Not here. We care about Mia because she’s real, she’s hard to like at times, but you never doubt she exists in the millions in working class situations all around the world. So when the Nas scene breaks, it’s overwhelming. Three generations of women dance to a song called “Life’s a Bitch” in a tiny flat with an image of paradise on the wall. It’s the one rare moment of mutuality. The one time in the whole film these people make sense together. And they dance. Not well, not sexily, not in time with the song, but together. We’re allowed to see it. That’s what the best cinema does. Brings us to these human moments at the heart to life that happen despite everything. I cry every time.

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