A woman in a man’s world, Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s debut feature Flying Blind exposes the vulnerable face of a woman in love.
Secrets And Lies by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Like the hit American TV series Homeland, Flying Blind is an is-he-isn’t-he thriller of a strong woman falling for a could-be terrorist. But instead of the gunslinging, bring ’em down explosions stateside, this Bristol-set film is a much more intimate affair of a strong woman finding her way through falling in love. And while it’s produced, directed and written by women (well, two out of the three scriptwriters are female), Flying Blind is by no means a woman’s film, focusing instead on the universal fears and doubts of a burgeoning romance as well as the more patriotic anxieties of the other. It may be Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s debut feature, but Flying Blind is a refreshingly self-searching look at woman’s and Britain’s place in the world.
Frankie is an aerospace engineer, successful businesswoman and sometime university lecturer whose life is turned upside-down when she meets Algerian student Kahil. But as she falls head over heels in love, her career-making, cutting-edge contract with the Ministry Of Defence is jeopardised when she receives a visit from MI5 declaring her lover a “person of interest” to them. Her own doubts bolstered by their suggestions, Kahil’s secret past and her inability to understand his overheard conversations in Arabic, Frankie oscillates wildly between letting herself fall for the young refugee – innocent until proven guilty and all that – and shutting herself up in her lonely fortress, protecting herself against the terrorist threat.
Like the women behind the film, Flying Blind is the story of a woman in a man’s world – aeronautical engineering for the Ministry Of Defence taking the place of filmmaking. And as Frankie, Helen McCrory’s performance is astonishing, able to turn from steely determination through a butter-wouldn’t-melt smile to emotional wreck in the blink of a well made-up eye. The seemingly rootless but haunting image of Frankie being blasted in a wind tunnel exults her strength, her self-reliance and her ability to stand tall against adversity with grim determination. But underneath the successful and self-possessed businesswoman lies a vulnerable heart, gradually exposing herself to the uncertainty of romance while fearful of his potential ulterior motives to infiltrate her MOD commission to redesign military drones. Her swing between fear and trust may be framed by terrorism, careers in the making and homeland security as she is excluded from Kahil’s conversations in Arabic with his ex-girlfriend, uncovers his lies about being a student, and discovers the Islamic fundamentalist websites he checks out on his computer, but her feelings are universal, a lonely soul learning to trust another while yearning for the self-protective safety of withdrawal.
Frankie only cares about the beauty of flight, and she isn’t political enough to care about the impact the drones she designs have on civilians killed in the Middle East. But neither is she susceptible to pandemic fears of the Muslim other – treating Kahil neither as exotic nor as a terrorist in waiting. But through her relationship with the Algerian taxi-driver, she’s drawn into the politics of an unfamiliar world, and one in which she is forced to relinquish control. It’s her beloved father who sets the wheels in motion, tightening the net around the innocent but illegal immigrant Kahil. And it’s the white establishment that stokes her fears – MI5 as well as her Concorde-designing father, both with little more to go on than spurious information and an irrational fear of foreigners – anxious for her blossoming career or the potential threat to homeland security. But as she hesitates confusedly between blowing the whistle on him and coaxing him into bed or out of the country, her admission that she knows nothing, as she leads the police to his door, hints at another story in which Frankie could actually get to know the stranger in her midst.
Kahil isn’t really wily or manipulative enough to be a revolutionary touching up the “older woman” for intel, and the script is almost wilful in its conspiratorial concealment of his secrets – forcing Frankie to keep walking the tense high-wire of hope and doubt. There are beautiful moments, such as Frankie outside her apartment looking in at Kahil, conflating all the film’s themes as she sees with searing objectivity both the lover and the other within. Perhaps it’s an anxious nostalgia for the simplicity of singledom, isolated from the world in her regency tower overlooking Bristol’s skyline – self-sufficient and hard with her bedroom running machine, unapproachable with her office ear-plugs. But her romance with Kahil is a not-always-welcome exposure to new experiences; against the novelty of alleyway sex, shisha pipes and the seduction of Arabic poetry, there’s also unknown acquaintances, suspicion, guns and fear. And while the script maintains Kahil as an empty vessel ready to be filled with both Frankie’s trust and fears, it’s as unfathomable to us as to her why she’s falling for him so hard. There’s an over-reliance on sex rather than dialogue to keep the relationship going, but as a haunting portrait of love, trust and fear, Polish director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s Flying Blind is an easterly breath of fresh air.
Flying Blind is released on 12th April 2013 in the UK