Synopsis: Filmed over a period of 4 years in 18 different countries. Tarsem’s The Fall is an unforgettable movie experience. In 1920 Los Angeles, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a 5 year old girl hospitalized from a fall, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Roy (Lee Pace, TV’s Pushing Daisies), a Hollywood stuntman shattered by a near fatal movie set accident and his lover’s betrayal. To pass the time, he tells Alexandria the epic story of Governor Odious and the 5 remarkable heroes determined to defeat him – a dazzling world of magic and myth. Only when the line between reality and fantasy begins to dissolve does Alexandria realize how much is truly at stake. Presented by David Fincher (Fight Club) and Spike Jonze (Adaptation), The Fall is an awe-inspiring, cinematic tour de force.
The Fall 8.0
eyelights: the visual splendour of the piece. its aesthetic quality.
eyesores: its obvious influences. Alexandria’s accent.
I knew nothing of ‘The Fall’ going in other than it had been filmed in many countries over many years. I didn’t know if it was a documentary, fiction, and art film, or anything. I purposely kept from reading about it the moment that I picked it up, knowing that it would likely be more of a treat if it was unveiled before my eyes.
The only impression I had going in was that it would be a visually arresting piece – if only based on the unusual, slightly surrealistic cover. And the fact that it was presented by David Fincher and Spike Jonze; if any filmmakers could give a film artistic merit with their names alone, they can – while largely dissimilar, they both invest their work with original visual styles.
I knew very little else about it, however. I had heard nothing from friends, found no references to it in my various reads, had very little to base myself on. But I figured that it would be nice to expand a little bit, to take a chance on a (almost) blind buy. So, figuring I wanted to experience this to the fullest degree, I picked it up on Blu-ray – if it was to be splendid, I wanted it to veritably shine.
If ‘The Fall’ is anything, it’s most certainly visually arresting.
Shot over the course of four years in approximately 20 countries, this motion picture is writer/director/producer Tarsem Singh’s take on a 1981 Bulgarian film called ‘Йо-хо-хо’. I can’t speak for the original film, but Tarsem clearly intended to astonish his audiences, borrowing liberally from some of the world’s most recognized works of art – including paintings, film and music.
This tale was the perfect vehicle for it: a period piece that takes place in Los Angeles around the turn of the century, it’s about Roy, a bedridden actor who befriends a little girl whilst in the hospital. To amuse her, he begins to fabricate a fantasy adventure. However, as she becomes more spellbound by the tale, he finds that he can get her to run errands for him, errands that put his life at risk.
Between the storytelling and Alexandria’s own imagination, we are transported to wondrous places and meet unusual characters.
What is particularly special about this picture is that it tells its fantasy from Alexandria’s perspective. In other words, she fills in the blanks with her own limited understanding of the world. For instance, an Indian is a person from India, not an American Indian, even when Roy speaks of squaws and tipis. And all the characters are based on people she’s met, even if they don’t look the part.
By using this approach, Singh was able to expand the scope of what he could do onscreen, taking abstract approaches where others would use more straight and narrow ones. He wove a tale that stands somewhere between a fairytale and a dream, with the inexplicable happening at his convenience and events morphing with fluidity.
Of course, it helps that Alexandria is influencing the story: not only are we seeing the tale as she sees it in her mind’s eye, but Roy sometimes indulges her and takes his story and characters in directions that she requests, or lets her own experiences change details and the course events. It’s interactive storytelling of the sort a parent might tell a child at bedtime.
Lee Pace is excellent as always in the role of Roy. I preferred him as the pie maker in ‘Pushing Daisies‘ but I found him quite capable as a weaver of the fantastical. He was less convincing as the swashbuckling hero, but that was Alexandria’s own doing: she put him in the role, awkward or not (due to her growing love for him, she saw him as the hero, even if he didn’t have the presence required).
Catinca Untaru was super sweet as Alexandria and entirely credible. She had this wide-eyed gaze that reminded me of Brett Kelly in ‘Bad Santa‘. I have one major beef, though, and it’s her accent, which was pronounced enough that I ended up putting the subtitles on. It’s not her fault, though – it’s mostly due to the fact that children have high-pitched voices and often mumble. The combination made most of what she said virtually indecipherable.
Another issue I had was that Singh used elements that were far too obvious to me, such as three segments directly culled from ‘Baraka‘, Beethoven’s “Symphony no. 7”, art based on Dali’s work, music inspired by Brian Eno’s work on the Qatsi Trilogy, …etc. Even the Blu-ray’s menu had music that I recognized in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac‘. Intentional or not, the references were clear. Well, as they say, if you’re going to borrow…
Otherwise, I was quite enchanted with this film. The storytelling aspect was somewhat reminiscent of ‘The Princess Bride‘, but the tone and structure are completely different, so it would be unfair to suggest that this was an influence – many tales/films revolve around storytelling, or fantasy/dreamlike narratives, including ‘Alice in Wonderland‘, ‘Edward Scissorhands‘ and even ‘The Big Lebowski‘.
I loved the basic plot of the 1915 sequence, but also really enjoyed the fantasy adventure that we are taken on, a quest for revenge by six diverse personages (an Indian warrior, an Italian, a mystic, an former slave, a swashbuckling bandit and… Charles Darwin) against a man known only as Governor Odious. In trying to find him, they end up traveling the world over, including China, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Namibia, and Spain.
Singh claims to not have used any special effects to embellish the locations. If that’s true, he and his crew have done a remarkable job: everything is astonishingly beautiful or immensely impressive. Granted, the locations were all likely picked for their awe-inspiring qualities (why create it when it’s already out there?), but the way it was put together was nothing short of miraculous – you’d half-expect all of it to be conceived by cgi artists. And yet it’s all real.
Tales of revenge are a dime a dozen, but ‘The Fall’ stands out in that it’s not truly about vengeance – it’s the interpretation of Roy’s current frustrations intermingled with a child’s imagination. It isn’t particularly violent even though there is subtext that suggests a more mature take lies right below the surface; no doubt had the girl been older, she would have translated much of it very differently.
‘The Fall’ likely requires a few viewings to grasp entirely; the eye candy alone is so overwhelming that it’s impossible to appreciate all of it in one sitting, let alone all of it. While I find it less captivating, less magical, than Singh undoubtedly intended, it remains an achievement on many levels: Singh put his vision on screen independently and on his own terms, there are few movies like it (Terry Gilliam’s work comes closest), and for many reasons it compels one to watch it again.
For these reasons alone, it’s a film that should be seen and discussed. Even if it didn’t get an audience upon its release (few independent pictures do), it doesn’t mean that it’s undeserving. In fact, ‘The Fall’ should have been an event picture with much more recognition than it got. But, as many filmmakers will attest (Gilliam, in particular), it’s not always so simple – between studio politics and improper publicity, some gems remain undiscovered by the masses.
I truly hope that ‘The Fall’ will get a new lease on life with home video. Who knows, perhaps it will be reconsidered and gain recognition over time. One can always dream.
Date of viewing: September 17, 2013