Anne at 13,000 ft is Canadian writer/director Kazik Radwanski’s sharp and energetic character study of a woman teetering around the brink socially and professionally. A unique and striking coming-of-age story about 30-something Anne, played by the brilliant Deragh Campbell who also shares a writing credit for the role. Whilst working in a daycare centre, Anne begins to push and unravel social fabrics around her in a blaze of self destructive introspection. Her childlike enthusiasm and fun-seeking motives begin to challenge those in her social and professional life.
As a multilayered analysis of mental health, the metaphorical motif of skydiving is used to resemble Anne’s pursuit for feeling and thrill. Refusing to be boxed in or strictly categorised, she willingly thrusts herself into instability. The cinematography also lends itself to an effective analogy of Anne’s mental status, erratic in good measure, the fraught tensions woven by Radwanski are visually laid bare. Anne at 13,000 ft is an examination of this young woman’s mental health through emotional contradictions, and an untethered physical journey that is paired with this sensory agitation that is palpable throughout. Negation of safety is visible; Anne may seemingly land anywhere. The film is thoroughly kinetic, emotions are never standing still, and the constructed conflicts feel poignantly real.
On paper the plot may sound light: a young woman working in a daycare centre has work issues, goes to a friend’s wedding and meets a love interest. Whilst perhaps not appealing as an engaging encounter, the performance of Deragh Campbell lifts the entire film and adds complexities to the narrative through layers of unspecified mental illness, unbridled enthusiasm and existential melodrama. Campbell becomes the role so vividly, the camera never far away from her. She embodies the entirety of the film; this may be a breakthrough performance for her. Whilst Radwanski’s lo-fi/handheld vernacular style offers itself to a more intimate and relatable experience, the close up pans to facial expressions and contemplative obsession has shades of the manic and enchanting Isabelle Adjani in Zulawski’s Possession and the emphatic Gena Rowlands in Cassavetes’ Love Streams, whilst retaining the required amount of restraint to not overplay the role.
Understating Nikolay Michaylov’s cinematography and its role within the film would be a mistake. Whilst perhaps simple in its approach, the semblance of fly on the wall documentary style creates an almost physical sensation surrounding Anne, like a magnetism and a relationship shared between her perception and that of the viewer. This cinematic motif is not uncommon- Michaylov shot Radwanski’s How Heavy This Hammer in similar style, the painfully close proximity of the camera to Anne allowing us to engage deeper with basic plot points as we feel more connected the closer we are as viewers.
Playing out like a hire-wire act, control is a fleeting concept throughout and inward journeys of self-discovery thematically follow on from Radwanski’s two other features Tower & How Heavy This Hammer. Whilst exploring identity, Radwanski uses a romantic interest as a subplot device to further complicate the lives of his protagonists. Sadly the romantic subplot for Anne detracts more than it contributes to the dizzying highs and lows of the narrative, whilst the implication of further disaster is glaringly evident. Radwanski’s Tower & How Heavy This Hammer provide recurring archetypes of sad, lonely and seemingly uninteresting men. Where Anne at 13,000 ft differs is obviously the focus shifts to a young woman, but the continual vehicle of forced empathy is a functional tool for Radwanski. Accompanied by the medium close-up shooting, the intentionally suggested empathy provides further support to character studies of characters steeped in realism Though the subject is no longer a sad, lonely male looking inwards, the director shows signs of growth with Anne, with a more refined character study.
There is a form of humanist filmmaking at work; Anne shows signs of limited control in her life and the filmmaker respects that with the fraught tensions between professional life and social life. Though the success of Anne at 13,000 ft lies within its ability to demonstrate both a lack of control and a woman forcing situations and emotional conflicts to elicit meaning, purpose and understanding. Like other successful humanists within film, Radwanski’s film displays a powerfully real experience of mental health issues so rarely captured well by the medium, owing much to the imperative performative efforts of Campbell. The film is an exhilarating and challenging consideration on the self and its limits. With change the only real constant, Anne at 13,000 ft is touching small budget ode to the abstraction of existentialism.
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