Head in the Clouds
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Anne at 13,000 ft (Kazik Radwanski, 2021)
I’m searching for a scene early in Anne at 13,000 ft, written and directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Kazik Radwanski with additional writing from star—or gravitational pull—Deragh Campbell. In the scene, Anne almost gleefully tosses an emptied, disposable drink-cup at her unfavorite coworker. A familiar, delicate sing-song of children playing beyond the frame fills the colorful space of the daycare where Anne works, I remember. So I search for their sounds—sounds which remind me of Bruno Ganz reciting Peter Handke’s “Song of Childhood” (“Lied Vom Kindsein”) in Wings of Desire: “When the child was a child / It did not know it was a child.” I am fortunate to have a digital screener of Anne, a film that follows a young woman after she’s been through a day of transformative skydiving at the bachelorette party for her friend Sarah (Canadian singer-songwriter Dorothea Paas, who also did the music). As I skip through, I search for that colorful space, a real daycare run by the director’s mother. I look for the bright yellows, greens, blues, and reds that make up the flower-bed that is Radwanski’s palette in these scenes—the colors shift in tandem with Anne’s precarious mental state over the course of the film as if the viewer has been granted synesthesia.
I’ve found it: Anne is drinking her tea, busy putting things away. The microphone is so close—aligned with Nikolay Michaylov’s beautifully tight, committed camerawork—that Campbell’s fingers can be heard tracing the paper cup, its serrated cardboard holder. Apart from the ambient sing-song of the children, for a brief moment this is the only sound, and we are held in it, with nothing required of us but our listening. Suddenly, a woman’s voice interrupts, gently scolding Anne for bringing hot liquid into the classroom. Anne nods, places the cup out of the children’s reach, and continues her business. Her coworker, still unseen, speaks a second time, more insistent now: “Anne.” If an inspector came in or something, she is saying. The scene hinges on this emotional turn: how resentment will fucking rise when you’re infantilized in the precious minutes before the workday begins. It distills Anne into some form of boundaryless guile, and she gives the cup a good toss—as if it were a paper plane—in the direction of her coworker, now glimpsed in the frame, her back to the camera. The cup bounces, hitting her side. Anne then insists that she has thrown an object at another woman’s body because she wants Suzanne (Suzanne Pratley) to enjoy herself more, to relax. Suzanne responds: “I am not here to play, I am here to do my job.” Later, in a tense meeting about the incident with their supervisor, Anne will open up about her reasoning. “I don’t have, like, freedom in the room to learn myself, like she’s always kind of breathing down my neck.” This is part of Anne’s plight—she senses in most obligations of human interaction attempts to patrol her behavior. As much as she is vulnerable, sitting between two women who are also burdened with their own roles and responsibilities, now having to reprimand their younger colleague, the possibility is open that Anne is not entirely in the wrong. Her condition points savagely outward, toward brittle authority more generally.
To Anne, Suzanne is more the headmaster in Zero for Conduct than a fellow employee who is in on the joke that literally all jobs are oppressive. Anne’s transgression may have been experienced as violence, a “toss” to one person and a “throw” to another, but play itself is not necessarily unprofessional conduct—nor, certainly, a sign of impropriety—and her coworker is inaccurate (maybe willfully) in assuming that Anne is searching for just play. The problem here is work, not play—though it is also more than that. “You’re so dumb,” Anne tells Suzanne, and her forehead reddens as she rubs it with her long fingers: the world is just blazing with this dumbness, these dumbbells who rely on conformity to protect them from the threat of oblivion. But Anne is also torn about whether to respond to others playfully or with seriousness, and often defaults to jester-mode in her movements in space or her interactions with a possible love to come, played in good faith by Matt Johnson. Confusion is warranted.
In the scene preceding this small eruption, it is evening. Anne is painting a white wall in her new apartment a different shade of white. To accompany her painting, she has pressed play on an audio version of a Virginia Woolf short story on YouTube. The story, “A Haunted House,” is about two ghosts, a couple, who roam a house and its grounds in search of their buried treasure (spoiler: the treasure is love!). The story is narrated by a woman whose sleep is disturbed by their wandering and whispering. “Whatever hour you woke, there was a door shutting,” it begins. In the film, this scene is brief—I only noticed it when searching for the scene in the daycare—but it feeds a new understanding of Anne at 13,000 ft. As much as our protagonist wishes she could play—to fly, most powerfully—perchance she first needs to sleep undisturbed, or to work unwatched.
Living on her own may be a new and precarious situation for Anne; we are not privy to too much information about what has happened to her, only that she’s emotionally shaky. Any backstory is revealed through swift encounters, like a sustained, harrowing meet-cute at her friend Sarah’s wedding, or in scenes where Anne seems landlocked with her concerned mother, who I’d venture has seen the darkest of it, and still has a couch for Anne to come home to. Anne’s sensitivity to being monitored makes me wonder whether she’s got a deeper reason to seek rude freedom. It is possible she has been recently hospitalized. How might such an experience have reshaped her awareness of space, “normal” conduct, and proximity? I continually return to her need for less breathing down her neck. Isn’t the desire for people to leave you alone in essence a yearning for the space to connect to those truly on your wavelength?
If Anne has a wavelength, children are definitely on it—or rather, she relates to the fact that children imagine (a turn toward a future) before they anticipate (which derives from having known a thing). In an essay for the DVD release of Angela Schanelec’s exquisite I Was at Home, But…, Deragh Campbell herself has written, “When Phillip, the son … stands with his arms at his sides, his arms register an unfamiliarity, for his arms are growing and therefore constantly new and entering postures newly. When you look at a person who is not historied, their image doesn’t contain less information so much as the information is located elsewhere (the future), seen in their glances at what is here, what is next.” Like Anne, who is committed to jumping out of a plane with no fear, children can be incautious of the world’s dangers, because they do not yet wholly know them. What is taking care of children other than a kind of patrolling: watching them, watching out for them, corralling them? Anne, instead of watching out, wants to daydream with them—and there’s the rub.
But Anne is historied, not a child herself; it is only that she glances at what is next in ways that will feel simply unsettling to some, and dubious to others, and which Deragh Campbell expresses as joy and distress in astonishing turns. In contrast, Campbell, Michaylov, and Radwanski produce fluttering, fragmented, sunlit images. The camera is always at the ready, operating in a dance-like collaboration with Campbell that gradually constructs Anne’s experience of the physical world, calling to mind Barbara Loden’s work on Wanda with cinematographer Nicholas Proferes (whose background was in direct cinema). Michaylov’s framing registers (thanks also to visceral editing by Ajla Odobasic) every flicker of purpose on Campbell’s heart-shaped face as she reacts to seen, and often unseen, others—mother, bartender, charge, skydiving instructor, lover—saying little about what they unravel in her. Drinks miraculously show up in her hands, perhaps intended for wider ramification. Blonde waves often fill the frame. Or she falls asleep, finally, mid-skydive.
Corina Copp is the author of the poetry collection, The Green Ray, and the North American translator of Chantal Akerman’s My Mother Laughs. She lives in Los Angeles.