Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s assured debut feature Flying Blind (2012), starring Helen McCrory, Najib Oudghiri and Kenneth Cranham, is a political thriller with a sting in its tail. Frankie (McCrory), an attractive middle-aged woman, is a successful aerospace engineer designing drones for the British military. She also lectures at Bristol University where she meets Kahil (Oudghiri), a French-Algerian student. They begin an affair and Frankie swiftly becomes obsessed with her young lover but after discovering, by accident, that he is a part-time taxi driver, she realises that she doesn’t really know Kahil, his past, or where his loyalties lie.
Kahil mixes with some dubious characters, his body carries the signs of torture and he’s lied about his student status. Frankie works in a sensitive field and becomes increasingly suspicious of Kahil’s intentions towards her, but finds that she can’t give him up so easily and starts to spy on him. She trawls though his internet history and rifles through a bag that may or may not be his. At the same time, Frankie’s father (Cranham), the police and her work superiors begin to monitor her activities. Klimkiewicz ratchets up the tension and keeps us guessing as to Kahil’s allegiances, whilst Frankie is, in turn, betrayed. Her protective father has his own doubts about Kahil and acts on them with devastating consequences.
Flying Blind is particularly topical, given the recent furore over state-sanctioned snooping. Klimkiewicz and her co-scriptwriters have produced a convincing, suspenseful thriller that highlights the current paranoia against Islam in contemporary Britain and provides a vivid portrait of our surveillance culture. However, it’s also frustratingly sexist in its implicit suggestion that a highflying career woman is so easily derailed, emotionally and physically, by a sexual relationship with a younger man. Frankie loses her self-possession and risks her career and reputation when, flouting an official warning, she turns up unannounced at Kahil’s modest home.
Fortunately, this narrative flaw is more than made up for by the acting. McCrory gives a finely nuanced performance as an older woman, at once captivated and bound by her sexual obsession. Oudghiri also impresses as the enigmatic Kahil, able to convey both kindness and menace in a single scene. Klimkiewicz skilfully uses their intimate relationship to explore political issues, whilst DoP Andrzej Wojciechowski brilliantly captures Bristol’s cityscape; its attractions juxtaposed with a darker side.