In Andrea Arnold’s film, “Fish Tank,” an unsmiling 15-year-old named Mia (Katie Jarvis), who lives in a housing project in Essex, in England, becomes close to the boyfriend of her uncaring mother. The man, an Irish charmer named Connor, played by Michael Fassbender, gives her money and lends her his video camera so that she can tape herself dancing to hip-hop. It soon becomes apparent that the relationship between Mia and Connor is becoming dangerously intimate.
Ms. Arnold shot “Fish Tank” in a raw, nonjudgmental and observational style with plenty of hand-held camerawork. The film, which was in the United States on Friday, is recognizably the work of the same unflinching filmmaker who made “Red Road” (2006) and “Wasp,” which won the 2005 Oscar for best live-action short. The consistent look and the working-class milieu of Ms. Arnold’s films align them with the three British directors most associated with social realism: Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Alan Clarke, who died in 1990.
The difficulties in Britain of raising money to make films prohibits cohesive movements in the national cinema, and like other directors who have worked in a social realist style — including Gary Oldman (the actor, who directed “Nil by Mouth”), Carine Adler (“Under the Skin”), Lynne Ramsay (“Ratcatcher”) and Duane Hopkins (“Better Things”) — Ms. Arnold is something of a lone voice. Her reputation as an auteur could come to rest on whether her films successfully harness her chosen style to express social themes, or whether they are merely anecdotes that look like Mr. Loach’s films.
Ms. Arnold admits to being a fan of Mr. Loach, but is hesitant about making claims for herself as a social realist. “I guess I am,” she allowed during a recent telephone interview. “When people have suggested it, I’ve said, ‘Oh, am I?’ I know it sounds kind of mad, but I just get on and make my films in my own way as best I can. I’m not aware that I’m joining any group. I know that all the people that have made similar films in the past paved the way for me to be able to do it, and I’m obviously influenced by what came before, but I’m not that conscious of it.”