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Review: Anne at 13,000 Ft. Is a Bracing Portrait of a Woman in Free Fall

The film intimately immerses us in the psyche of a woman for whom each day is a minefield of uncomfortable interactions.

Anne at 13,000 Ft.
Photo: Cinema Guild

Indie filmmakers have long put a spotlight on socially awkward individuals, but Canadian writer-director Kazik Radwanski takes that ethos to dizzying heights, and literally so in his third feature, Anne at 13,000 Ft. Across his acclaimed shorts and features, all set in Toronto, Radwanski intensely follows characters who are virtually incapable of seeing outside themselves. It’s a condition that he vividly captures in Anne at 13,000 Ft. in Dardennian fashion, with a camera that almost perpetually and kaleidoscopically roams around its titular character’s (Deragh Campbell) head, intimately immersing us in the psyche of this young woman for whom each day is a treacherous minefield of uncomfortable interactions.

Compared to the clearly antisocial loners of Radwanski’s first two features, Tower and How Heavy This Hammer, Anne seems relatively well-adjusted at first glance. As Anne at 13,000 Ft. intercuts between scenes of the twentysomething at her daycare job, where she lovingly matches the boisterousness of the young children surrounding her, and her at a bachelorette party whose participants are about to go skydiving, she initially comes off, however meek, like your run-of-the-mill urban dweller. But it doesn’t take long for the cracks to appear—first when a perhaps too-intimate moment with a child under her supervision sparks a terse exchange with a parent, and then when she invites her mother (Lawrene Denkers) over to see her new apartment and immediately faces subtle questions over her ability to live alone.

For Anne, her skydiving experience becomes a kind of awakening, with Radwanski’s camera thrillingly capturing a myriad of ecstatic facial reactions across Campbell’s face as the actress falls through the air. Once on the ground, Anne is like a woman reborn, but her newfound aliveness only heightens an already precarious emotional state. While constantly obsessing over the skydiving trip, Anne subsequently begins to act out like one of the children under her supervision, picking fights with her colleagues and steadily alienating her new romantic interest, Matt (Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson), and newly-married friend, Sarah (Dorothea Paas), with her mood swings and penchant for cracking jokes that no one gets.

Anne at 13,000 Ft. refuses to provide an easy rationale for the kind of behavior that often scans as a tell-tale sign of manic depression. But Radwanski sprinkles in tantalizing and tension-filled clues throughout, most notably at Sarah’s wedding reception, where Anne’s enigmatic nature is writ large. She exists at a strange remove from the event, and as she gives her maid-of-honor speech—a spellbinding display of discomforting sincerity—she hints at the struggles she once faced at her job that Sarah helped her through. Later, while flirting with Anne, Matt asks her how she ended up as Sarah’s maid of honor: “Did you have to kill everyone else?” He’s joking, of course, but like more than one person in the film, Matt is an audience proxy in this moment, imagining what Anne might be capable of if left to her own devices.

Clocking in at a lean 75 minutes and containing little in the way of narrative thrust, Anne at 13,000 Ft. flirts with slightness, a criticism that’s been levelled at Radwanski’s past work. But the film is only slight in the way that our day-to-day existence might be deemed as such by someone who doesn’t know us very well. Radwanski’s commitment to a granular, almost mundane depiction of Anne’s life works to draw out greater wells of emotional insight from places that other filmmakers wouldn’t bother looking at. By the end of the film, as Anne prepares to go skydiving again—this time all by herself—you may not feel like you concretely grasp the essence of her being. But you will understand, as she flies high above the world below, her need to find solace from her life’s unending complications and disappointments.

Cast: Deragh Campbell, Matt Johnson, Dorothea Paas, Lawrene Denkers Director: Kazik Radwanski Screenwriter: Kazik Radwanski Distributor: Cinema Guild Running Time: 75 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

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