Sunday, October 05, 2008

THE FALL - visually stunning but, more importantly, heart-breaking

THE FALL is a stunningly beautiful, imaginative, heart-rending film that passed in a flash and made me cry. I can't wait to watch it again: I haven't been this excited about a film since PAN'S LABRYNTH. Having said that, I should fairly warn the prospective viewer that THE FALL is an alpha-gamma film. It has attracted the ire of the pragmatic film critics. They have called it indulgent, a vanity project, all style and no substance, and a colossal waste of money. Presumably these people would rather watch tightly scripted genre films that do what they say on the tin, but not a millimetre more.

THE FALL follows in the tradition of films like THE WIZARD OF OZ, PAN'S LABRYNTH or even THE USUAL SUSPECTS - in which a narrator tells a story that is influenced by prosaic details of everyday life. Writer-director Tarsem carefully weaves the two together and the conceit works perfectly. He also ties in a commentary on the nature of film and film-viewing. The little girl at the heart of the story - Alexandria - is always playing with optical illusions - shadow figures and images projected in sunlight. She understands in an intuitive way that cinema, and story-telling, is all smoke and mirrors. She also understands that stories belong to the people who listen to them - and that the good storyteller will bend his story to take into account the audiences' emotions. (To that end, it is ironic that negative reviews have accused Tarsem of doing just the opposite - bludgeoning them with his obscure and superficial vision.)

Anyways, let's get to the heart of the matter. THE FALL is set in a Catholic hospital in 1915 Los Angeles. Roy is a broken-hearted, suicidal stuntman who has shattered his legs in a stunt designed to impress his then-girlfriend. Alexandria is a precocious Romanian girl with a broken arm, who isn't above spinning a tale or too to stay in hospital longer and hear the end of the story that Roy is telling her. Roy and Alexandria immediately hit it off. He is amused by her straightforward, literal response to his story and welcomes her attentions. She is charmed by his tale of bandits, kidnapped princesses and wondrous palaces. (And it is wondrous. Costumes, locations, staging - all staggeringly wonderful and evocative - particularly scenes filmed in Rajasthan.) But Roy is also baiting Alexandra with promises of further installments so that she'll steal the morphine tablets he needs to commit suicide.

What I love about THE FALL is that there is no easy resolution. Roy's soul isn't saved by Alexandria in a flash. In fact, he is capable of being cruel and unsympathetic - killing off characters and forcing his bleak view of human nature onto her. There is a resolution of a sort, but we are under no illusion that Roy is a deeply damaged person. Moreover, Alexandria is not a simple innocent child. She has seen her father killed by thieves who burned down their house. And she is a child-labourer picking oranges for a living. She is capable of conjuring up brutal images herself. The difference is that she still has hope.

THE FALL is a beautiful film but it is more than that. It's an intelligent commentary on what stories and movies do and how they change in the telling. But most of all, and counter to the harsher reviews, it has heart. This is down to some effective writing, but most of all to a pair of great performances from Lee Pace (PUSHING DAISIES) and new-comer Caterina Untaru. They have real chemistry - you completely believe that they are friends - that his heart is broken - and that she would do anything for him, even when he is trying to break her heart.

THE FALL played Toronto 2006 and Berlin 2007. It was released earlier this year in Russia and the USA and is currently on release in Japan, Thailand and the UK. THE FALL is available on Region 1 DVD.

1 comment:

  1. This is magic on celluloid. I thought it'll be a while before I'll compare a moviemaker's use of visuals and sound to tell a story to that of Guillermo Del Toro until this came along. There are sequences, in which this excels even Pan's Labyrinth (more so for using available landscapes than constructed sets). Very profound as well, and yes heart-wrenching is the adjective.

    Nice reading this and flashbacking to the experience.