After years of hard work, Tomek (Marcin Dorocinski) is about to be promoted to a prestigious position as a TV newsreader. To top his happiness, his partner is about to give him a child. Everything in Tomek’s life feels close to perfection, with the only exception of the relationship with his schizophrenic father.
As we are introduced to Tomek’s character in the first few minutes of Lęk Wysokości (Fear of Falling in English), we know from the start that what we are witnessing will lead, sooner or later, to a painful discovery. The film is all developed in retrospective, with a few flashbacks in the form of private memories in between; what we are shown at the beginning — the opening scene with a desperate Tomek in the underground passage — is explained when the ending brings the story to a conclusion.
Tomek is well-defined and all-around easy to figure out, even if in the film he is unable to fully communicate with others to alleviate his inner turmoil. His father, well portrayed by Krzysztof Stroinski, is definitely the most interesting character in the film, as he presents us with more questions, most of them unanswered by the screenplay, to ponder about. Whereas we get to know Tomek’s doubts and desires accurately enough, we are not told much about his father’s. The unsaid in the old man’s past adds significant depth to his current situation. However sincere the intentions of his son, Tomek’s father has to work alone on his own fears; appropriately, he also finds release to his afflictions off screen.
Fear of Falling offers one of the many possible interpretations on how mental disease can affect both the life of the sick and that of people dealing with it more or less directly. In Konopka’s film, we are given the son’s perspective, we travel with him along the path to acceptance, but it’s with his old man that we are mostly ready to sympathize.
Konopka perhaps gives us a too polished overview on madness and on the difficulty for “normal” people to relate to mental illness and accept it. Stylistically, Fear of Falling feels a little too conventional, with an overabundance of mannerisms as they are usually employed in TV shows and music videos. The routine use of handheld camera, the washed out tones, the distorted images and the Super 8-like segments to signal flashbacks, are all elements that as viewers we have been force-fed for some time now, especially through a certain type of less than memorable cinema, to the point they have become frankly kind of irksome. For instance, the way tones switch from cold to warmer hues from scene to scene following the path of mental insanity feels somewhat too literal. In the same way, the home movie look for episodes from the past that are supposed to offer insight on Tomek’s family and the use of echoing sounds in the father’s house are, even when technically flawless, not very original.
Although this is his first feature film, Konopka demonstrates he knows well his profession. The problem is that he never tries to use the language in a way that is actually personal and distinguishable, so that he gives us the impression we are just watching one of those run-of-the-mill TV features with bleak connotations, rather than the work by an emergent film-maker with a unique sensibility and outlook.
Lęk Wysokości is in competition at the Reykjavík International Film Festival for the Golden Puffin Award.