A review of the film “The Fall”
Most of us were raised on fairytales and myths. They are intrinsically linked to our development. Imaginations can be built and psyches forged by them. To those who dismiss them with a cursory “just kids stories” have long forgotten both their potential positive and negative attributes. They matter.
The movie “The Fall” by innovative director Tarsem Singh, knows they matter and goes to great lengths to describe the importance of verbal storytelling and the lives it can not only salvage but the ones it can forge.
Set in an L.A. hospital in the 1920s the plot centres around a little Mexican girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) who while on the mend from an accident befriends a wounded stuntman named Roy (Lee Pace) in a nearby ward. Their odd relationship is sparked by a tale he begins to tell her about a band of outlandish characters in a storybook setting and their quest to find and kill an evil Governor.
The wicked politician, suitably called Odious has in some way wronged each of the protagonists and in his nefarious machinations we get some of the most beautiful images I have ever seen on the screen. The visual design through the film is sumptuous; an MC. Escher inspired labyrinth, golden dunes, barren tropical isles and timeless palaces are all rendered in such opulence I almost feared for my diabetic health, so rich is the texture of the film. But it’s a sugar high I would brave once more to again spy the wonderful costumes and style that the movie is infused with. It is drunk on the visual possibilities of Cinema.
Apparently CGI- free which is refreshing in this day and age where most Directors use it as a crutch, this is made with more practical special effects and an insane adherence to location shooting. One montage of our heroes’ previous adventures shows them in numerous countries and that meant clocking up serious air miles traveling to a reported 18 countries for the determined filmmaker and cast.
The characters presented within the story are little more than ciphers, the archetypes of various genres mixed together like ingredients in a cauldron but the crucial thing is we still care for them, as symbols of Alexandria’s imagination and her perspective on the world, innocent, naive, magical. As less than magical events in the real world begin to invade and darken the tale we don’t want to lose the charm of this place any more than Alexandria does and its there the essential and age old tug of war begins between ugly truth and fanciful fiction. Roy has an agenda with the story and is manipulating Alexandria in a way she couldn’t possibly begin to understand.
Therein lies the heart of the film. The fairytale is a beautiful construct, an over the top world which allows the actors within to perform in a very knowing, arch and post modern way but as fun as it all is and as beautiful, the soul of the film is in the scenes between and Pace. Theirs is a natural chemistry, borne of a free flowing improvisational tone. And when the story must lead to its inevitable showdown between reality and fantasy, both actors engage fully with the material, so much so that they make what we know to be a flippant story as powerful as any “truth” another movie might present.
Now many will dislike the film and feel its themes are obscure, even childish but they are the ones missing the point. Cinema, for all its sins began as escapism and a form of mass story telling. Only this time its adding how one world reflects on another. This may be too dark for children (most fairytales are) and too “insubstantial” for some grown ups but as an example of pure, unfiltered visual cinema and or an exploration of an emotional crisis this is a triumph.