Anne at 13,000 Ft.: Shaky Landing, by David Bax
If it weren’t for the stellar performance at its center, Kazik Radwanski’s Anne at 13,000 Ft. would feel like little more than a formalist or structuralist exercise. Disorienting tactics like close-ups that the camera operator has to reframe when the subject moves too much or cutting back and forth between Anne (Deragh Campbell) skydiving and working her job as an aide at a daycare attempt to put us in the same hectic state of mind as our mentally unwell protagonist. But the result is just another wisp of Dardennes-influenced festival chic.
Before we get to Campbell, it’s worth mentioning one other valuable thing about Anne at 13,000 Ft. It’s a Toronto movie. The city is home to so many productions, yet only seems to get to play itself in intimate indies like this or Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (or in disturbed freak-outs like Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy and David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers). More films that actually engage with this lovely, old city would be a welcome development.
Comparisons between Anne at 13,000 Ft. and A Woman Under the Influence are inevitable and for good reason. The most crucial similarity is that both films are led by captivating, insightful turns from their stars. Campbell is not afraid to be unpleasant. In fact, Anne’s tendency to be exasperating ultimately makes her more sympathetic since one can imagine oneself getting as annoyed with her as her friends and coworkers often do. Too many movies about mental illness flatter the audience by turning the main characters into sad, wounded animals. Campbell and Radwanski do the opposite, challenging the viewer to question whether they’d have the patience to help Anne.
She’s not always off-putting but Campbell’s needle-threading performance allows us to be concerned for her even when she is. When she is obnoxiously making “a joke” at work, we may understand the disdain coming from her colleagues but we also don’t want Anne to lose her job; it seems like anything going wrong might push her off a cliff.
Despite all of Campbell’s efforts, though, a film’s content is inextricable from its presentation (which is also its content). Radwanski’s camera is not just following Campbell, it’s following in the footsteps of twenty years of international arthouse films. It’s not that every shot in every movie has to employ a tripod; many handheld-favoring films are exceptional, from Asghar Farhadi to Julia Loktev and more. But Anne at 13,000 Ft.‘s lack of originality is made all the more pronounced by its use of a different latter day arthouse trope, the abrupt ending.