In the opening five minutes of Anne at 13,000 ft., Kazik Radwanski’s latest feature, there is a fascinating skydiving sequence that serves as the literal and figurative high for its central protagonist. Capturing the titular character Anne (Deragh Campbell) taking to the sky, Radwanski’s camera observes as she goes from pensive to joyous to passing out to reaching a state of calm. For a few brief moments she is freed from the burdens of a society constantly demanding her to take life more seriously. High above the ground, like a socially awkward Peter Pan, there is no one forcing Anne to grow up.
Working at a daycare centre with her best friend Sarah (Dorothea Paas), whose bachelorette party was the reason for the skydiving excursion, Anne seems more comfortable being a big kid rather than supervising them. Her lackadaisical approach to the job frequently places her at odds with her co-workers. Anne’s propensity to live in a state of endless play extends to her personal life as well. A perfect example of this comes when she decides to bring her new boyfriend, Matt (Matt Johnson), over to her mother’s for dinner, despite only dating a month, without prior warning just so she can revel in the uncomfortable interaction between them.
While Anne might take joy in such interactions, the cracks beneath her smile threaten to shatter the façade of normalcy she clings to. One does not need to look hard to see that Anne is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. As if living in a parallel universe whose rules only she can understand, Anne’s struggles to remain present in a world where every aspect of her life is becoming increasingly foreign.
She may be surrounded by family and friends, but Anne is perpetually an outsider on the inside. Easily overwhelmed when interacting with clerks at a clothing store, and unable to control her lack of filter when verbalizing her thoughts on blind dates, one begins to understand why she becomes so enthralled with the freedom skydiving offers. When stuck on the ground her mind wanders as if she is sleepwalking through the mundane aspects of life. While there are two distinct moments in the film when Anne is literally called back to the land of the living, after passing out in the air and falling asleep while babysitting, breaking her out of metaphorical slumber is not an easy thing to do.
Radwanski’s never passes judgment on Anne or the downward spiral she finds herself in. He simply provides glimpses into moments of her life and trusts in the audience to put the puzzle pieces of her mental health together. What makes his portrait of Anne so riveting is mixture of impulse and restlessness that perpetually places her one-step away from mental collapse. She is a woman who shows no desire to advance her life, or at the very least find an apartment without graffiti on the walls, but also seems unable to accept that those around her, take Sarah’s marriage for example, are moving on with theirs.
Although Radwanski wonderfully constructs the situations that Anne struggles to navigate, it is the sensational performance of Deragh Campbell that brings out the character’s complexities. Campbell makes Anne feel like a real person, one who we may not fully understand, but are unable to turn away from. In the hands of a lesser artist the character, and her seemingly late 20’s life crisis, could have easily devolved into a caricature. Yet, she brings a sense of honesty and vulnerability that leaves us wanting to know more. Thanks to Campbell’s memorable performance, Anne at 13,000 ft. succeeds in painting a complex and mesmerizing portrait of a woman struggling to connect with a world she no longer recognizes.