'Anne at 13,000 Ft.': Film Review

Anne at 13,000 ft - TIFF - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of TIFF
A high-flying performance underlaid with tension.

Rising Canadian star Deragh Campbell plays a troubled young woman trying to navigate daily life in director Kazik Radwanski’s character study.

Young Deragh Campbell is a hard actress to forget, even in offbeat roles like an obsessed researcher of family history in MS Slavic 7 or its docudrama precursor Never Eat Alone, both by filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz. Kazik Radwanski’s Anne at 13,000 Ft. gives Campbell's talents breadth and scope in the much more demanding part of a dangerously fragile young woman who gingerly manages latent mental health issues while she navigates a job, an anxious mother, a new apartment and a relationship. The character she creates, Anne, won Campbell the nod as best Canadian actress last year from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle.

This delicate character study is constructed with engrossing naturalism in a film that cares less about telling a story than following nuances of mood. Using a fast-moving camera and big close-ups, as well as a free-wheeling timeline that ends up deconstructing the story for the viewer, Radwanski and Campbell capture Anne’s kaleidoscopic mind as it runs head-on into a gray world of normality. The pic is scheduled for release in the U.S. later this year by Cinema Guild after some high-level fest play, including Toronto’s Platform competition (special mention) and a bow in the Berlin Forum.

Deliberately disorienting the viewer from the start, the story opens on Anne greeting women friends at a local airfield where she thrills to her first tandem skydive, grinning like a 5-year-old. Parachuting scenes recur throughout the film — Anne suiting up, the camaraderie with the instructors, the plane taking off, the dive — as she works toward the achievement of a solo dive. The contours of the action are blurred, which makes it poetically impressionistic if somewhat frustrating to decipher, allowing only the emotional import of the experience to come through. For Anne, skydiving seems to open a window on some hidden wild side in her.

But there’s a dark side, too, chafing to come out. When she proudly moves into her own apartment, her mother’s cautious inquiries about how she feels and Anne’s testy replies suggest she has a history of mental unbalance and is on some kind of probation, trying to hold down a job and fit into society. Certainly, any kind of coercion or authority puts her on edge. We wait apprehensively for her brittle mind to crack.

Anne has found a part-time job working in a daycare center and her rapport with small kids is amazing — she crawls into their tents to play, tells stories in their idiom and behaves like she's one of them. The kids adore her, but the other teachers see her giggly behavior as simply immature. When upbraided by her co-worker, she throws an empty paper cup at her, which leads to a disciplinary scene.

At the wedding for her best friend Sarah (Dorothea Paas), Anne meets Matt (Matt Johnson), an ingratiating heel ready to take advantage of her playful high spirits. He gets her drunk and, panting heavily, drapes her on the bed in her hotel room while she is practically passed out. Despite the ambiguity of that scene, their relationship proceeds. She brings him home to introduce to her mother and family as her fiance. Typically, the camera is kept on Anne as she upstages and disconcerts everybody, even the self-centered Matt.

You can’t help but like Anne, even as you fear for her. With the camera staying close to her scrubbed face, Campbell’s edgy, up-close performance is so natural that the dialogue seems improvised.

On his third feature after Tower and How Heavy This Hammer, Radwanski hits his quiet stride here, and the directing matches Campbell’s intuitive approach. Ajla Odobasic’s delicate, fast-moving editing reflects Anne’s uncertain hold on reality, while the open ending lets the viewer decide whether Anne or reality wins in the end.

Production companies: Film Maudit in association with MDFF
Cast: Deragh Campbell, Lawrene Denkers, Matt Johnson, Michael Kuthe, Dorothea Paas
Director-screenwriter: Kazik Radwanski
Producers: Daniel Montgomery, Kazik Radwanski
Executive producers: Nathan Silver, C. Mason Wells
Director of photography: Nikolay Michaylov
Production designer: Zoe Koke
Costume designer: Kendra Martyn
Editor: Ajla Odobasic
World sales: Cercamon

74 minutes