The movie “Fearless Flyers” is a subtle comedy about fear of flying. The film heads towards Reykjavík in a very confined space.
Stranded somewhere in the Icelandic vastness Photo: World Cinema
Fear of flying isn’t funny at all in itself – and what’s more, it’s well-founded in terms of evolutionary history, because humans weren’t designed to be flying creatures. Making a comedy about a state of panic that those affected perceive as a primal fear is therefore not an obvious idea and is definitely a bold idea.
The Icelandic film director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson nevertheless took the risk and, using a very dry, yet not at all black type of humor, conjured up a cinematic chamber play that must have been an acting festival for the actors involved. And in addition to the feeling of being entertained at a high level, it also provides us with lots of beautiful pictures.
The latter is also due to the setting, as a large part of the film takes place on Iceland. However, it begins in London, where a group of people complete the “Fearless Flyers” course against fear of flying. After a theoretical part, the practical test should follow in the form of a test flight, which the course participants complete together with the course leader. But the brilliant lady, who enjoys great trust among her protégés, is unable to attend the flight day and her inexperienced deputy Charles (Simon Manyonda) is alone with the group.
After half of the participants suddenly fled, there are only four people left besides Charles who bravely board the plane to Reykjavík. They couldn’t be more different: There is Sarah (Lydia Leonard), an experienced building contractor from London, who wants to spend her first vacation with her new boyfriend and his little daughter, panics about the flight to Cape Verde and secretly books the fear of flying course has. Sarah is something like the main character of the film or in any case the identification figure for the audience, because her problem has to do with love and strenuous relationship work.
Impressively messed up
The other “Fearless Flyers” don’t come quite as close to us personally, but are even more impressively screwed up as types. Timothy Spall plays Edward, a blasé writer who is supposed to accept a literary prize in Latin America and whose flight trauma is connected to the fact that he once fought as a soldier in the Falklands War.
“Fearless Flyers.” Director: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson. With Lydia Leonard, Timothy Spall and others Germany/Iceland/Great Britain 2023, 97 min.
The remaining two form a couple, of which only he has a fear of flying, while she earns money as an influencer by sticking her ass in the camera all over the world, as Coco (Ella Rumpf) herself puts it. Since her most exasperated friend Alfons (Sverrir Guðnason) is the one who takes the fantastic pictures of her, he has to be able to fly with her all over the world. Because he is “an asset”Coco explains to Sarah, not sounding very enamored.
Of course, there are complications during the test flight, and those who were severely tested cannot fly back as planned because the machine cannot be repaired so quickly. So they are accommodated in a wellness hotel somewhere in the snowy Icelandic landscape.
Caged in a very small space
The situation resembles a classic one huis clos, a drama that unfolds as a result of a group of people being trapped in a limited space. Sarah can’t come to terms with the situation, as she had wanted to fly from London to Cape Verde that same evening after her boyfriend. She despairs of not being able to reach him because, unfortunately, there was also a fatal misunderstanding.
Niels Thastum’s camera repeatedly captures this fateful being thrown into iconic images
Lydia Leonard plays Sarah’s inner drive with a note of very British control, behind which a volcano of desperation blazes. Timothy Spall as Edward gives this, with a cool, reserved gesture spitting image of a novelist and gentleman, while at the same time his actions are inappropriately military out of control. Only the quiet Alfons seems to become a completely different person after a surprising encounter.
Beneath all the precisely placed comedy, there is also another, more serious film that is about the fact that every person is (mostly) completely alone with their demons. Niels Thastum’s camera repeatedly captures this fateful being thrown into iconic, static images that are reminiscent of Edward Hopper: an exhausted man in a bathtub, a woman alone at a bar counter, a hotel lying in the middle of nowhere like a spaceship that has just landed.
But these moments of visual truth are always short-lived and are gently embedded in a well-tempered, absurd event that wonderfully interweaves situational and type comedy. And because the whole thing is a comedy, there is of course a soft landing at the end of all the existential confusion.