Mon. Dec 16th, 2019

AFI FEST Review: ‘Anne at 13,000 ft’ is centered by a nuanced performance from Deragh Campbell

Courtesy of AFI FEST

Mental health has been a topic that has emerged from the shadows as more and more people have opened up about their struggles.  It hasn’t always been successfully explored on screen, however.  Often mental health issues in movies devolve into one-dimensional, overly simplistic or overly extreme portrayals to achieve an emotional resonance.  That’s why I eventually came to appreciate writer/director Kazik Radwanski’s new film Anne at 13,000 ft, which made its U.S. premiere at AFI Fest. 

Anne at 13,000 ft introduces us to Anne, a charming, bubbly and sweet woman who, when we meet her, is about to go skydiving to celebrate her best friend’s upcoming wedding.  Anne is instantly hooked by the feeling she gets from the experience and looks forward to going back and doing it again.  In the meantime, she lives her life and we watch her in her job at a children’s day care, going on awkward first dates and settling into her new apartment.  It all seems totally ordinary, but as we spend more and more time with Anne and get to know her, something starts to feel different.  It’s not anything big or dramatic, it’s just these small moments that start to strike us as odd.  As these moments pile up, we slowly come to realize that Anne is not on the same wavelength as everyone else.  And the more time we spend with her, the more we see it and understand it, even if we have no idea what it is. 

Radwanski’s style of filmmaking is quite hard to get used to here, as he uses a handheld camera and shoots in such extreme close-up that half the time you are looking at hair instead of a face.  The intent is to create an intimacy with the characters, I would assume, but the effect is often more annoying than connective.  Still, the desired overall impact of almost being inside Anne’s head does eventually take hold, largely due to the incredibly nuanced performance of Deragh Campbell who plays Anne.  Campbell wins us over immediately with her affable charm and sense of humor, but is also able to make us just the right amount of uncomfortable. 

As an audience member, you often long for closure and answers, but Radwanski offers no easy outs here, as the film is a look at someone’s life, not an effort to make any statements or offer any solutions.  The lack of information is a tool Radwanski uses to his benefit, as it keeps the audience engaged just enough to become sucked into Anne’s charms and then question our societally-accepted sense of how we expect everyone to behave and how we react to those who don’t fit the mold.  Anne walks the razor’s edge—just enough to warrant concern, but never enough to prompt real danger.  But it’s the unknown that takes hold here—the severity, complexity and depth of Anne’s illness, along with our tolerance for how uncomfortable we will allow ourselves to be.  It is quite an effective approach that proves to land with an emotional impact. 

Campbell’s delicately nuanced and textured performance is the centerpiece of Anne at 13,000 ft, a film that may not have the greatest style, but certainly has a resonance that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.  

This review is from AFI FEST 2019. Anne at 13,000 ft will be released in 2020 by The Cinema Guild.

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