Borrowing heavily from real-life events – as well as the 1980s cult classic Christiane F. – Icelandic critical darling Baldvin Z’s (Life In A Fishbowl, Jitters) latest festival entry pulls directly from harrowing interviews with the families of addicts to create an agonizing tale of unrelenting desire and squandered potential. Following the naïve sins of youth into the harsh realities of adulthood, Let Me Fall (the second script collaboration between the director and Birgir Örn Steinarsson) crafts an intricate portrait of adolescent rebels operating outside the rigid boundaries of polite society, and the consequences they’re forced to stomach as a result.
“…they become hopelessly immeshed in each other’s lives, shedding whatever troubled baggage had been carried over from their past.”
Blending past and present, the story spans multiple decades as it chronicles the lives of Magnea (Elín Sif Halldórsdóttir, later Kristín þóra Haraldsdóttir) and Stella (Eyrún Björk Jakobsdóttir, later Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), two “missing” wayward besties in search of a quick fix. At first, the innocent, wide-eyed Magnea is seduced by Stella’s intoxicating and reckless lifestyle, but it isn’t long before they become hopelessly immeshed in each other’s lives, shedding whatever troubled baggage had been carried over from their past. Their tale jumps back and forth between their wild teen years and the repercussions of their youth on middle-aged life.
Right from the film’s unsettling and immersive opening, Baldvin Z’s obsession with his characters is abundantly clear. Between tight, off-kilter close-ups and lengthy, unbroken tracking shots, cinematographer Johann Mani Johannsson can’t take his (or ours, for that matter) eyes off of them, compulsively tracking Magnea and Stella through flashy Reykjavik dance halls and seedy drug dens. We don’t simply follow these gals; we become them. Let Me Fall forces us into the murky recesses of their battered psyche, experiencing the astonishing heights of exhilaration and the depths of crippling sobriety alongside them as they are thrust into their own twisted version of adulthood at far too young an age.
“…a devastating portrait of sex, drugs, and psychological decay, fashioning chilling imagery…”
Let Me Fall is often brutal, as it would need to be to forge this sort of lasting impact. Interventions from well-meaning adults are juxtaposed with unsavory sex acts, as the line between consent and obligation is blurred into obscurity. Make no bones about it – this film in no way glamorizes the lifestyle its protagonists. Rather, it paints them as victims of circumstance, through a lens that walks a tightrope between pity and judgment. Between Ólafur Arnalds’s emotive score and Ulfur Teitur Traustason’s zippy, abrasive editing, years of the girls’ lives are stripped away from them in an unflinching instant.
The story of Magnea and Stella isn’t inherently novel. We’ve seen the residual trauma of teen addiction time and time again – children of the 1980s will be reminded of the messy Jodie Foster vehicle Foxes – and yet Baldvin Z continuously breathes new life into a familiar framework. Let Me Fall is a devastating portrait of sex, drugs, and psychological decay, fashioning chilling imagery that each viewer is sure to carry with them long after the credits roll. With his most heart-rending effort to date, Baldvin Z continues to improve his craft as a storyteller, reaffirming the acclaim that’s been thrown at him over the years.
Let Me Fall (2018) Directed by Baldvin Z. Written By Baldvin Z, Birgir Örn Steinarsson. Starring Elín Sif Halldórsdóttir, Eyrún Björk Jakobsdóttir, Kristín þóra Haraldsdóttir, Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir, Þorsteinn Bachmann. Let Me Fall made its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
8 out of 10