Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Fall (2006)

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I should point out now that I loved this film. Objectivity isn’t going to come into play here.

In 2000, Tarsem Singh (known professionally as just Tarsem) released The Cell, a Jennifer Lopez vehicle that was mostly worth watching for the intense, nightmarish visuals crafted by the first-time director. Too bad it starred Jennifer Lopez. With The Fall, Tarsem’s 2006 follow-up (released on DVD in 2008), the director has come up with a film that focuses entirely on his strengths. The result is a film that is a marvel to behold--probably the most visually stunning film I’ve ever seen.

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The Fall revolves around two characters: a stuntman named Roy (played by Lee Pace) and a little girl named Alexandria, played by newcomer Catinca Untaru. Alexandria has come to the hospital for her arm, which she broke while picking oranges. There, she meets Roy, who has recently been invalided on the job--the direct aftermath of which is shown in the opening credits. Roy befriends the precocious child, and begins to tell her a fantastic story about six heroes: The Bandit, the Indian, Luigi (the bomb expert), Otta Benga (the ex-slave), Charles Darwin (and his monkey sidekick), and the Mystic. These six heroes are united in their hatred of General Odious, a sinister politician whom all of them have vowed to kill.

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In exchange for his story, Roy wants something from Alexandria: he wants her to steal morphine from the medicine cabinet. Roy has it in mind to do away with himself, considering his situation, and the fact that his beloved has left him for another. Alexandria, ignorant of Roy’s grand design, agrees.

The sequences depicting Roy’s story seem to take place in Alexandria’s head, so that misunderstandings she has show up as fact. These scenes are literally breathtaking--I caught my mouth hanging open during at least a couple of times. The colours are vibrant, the scale is massive, and Tarsem shows a genius for composition that’s probably unmatched in contemporary film. Perhaps the most impressive scenes revolve around the Mystic: his birth, rebirth, and death are all quite a sight to behold.

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I can understand the complaints some critics have made (and some viewers may well have): that the film looks too much like a music video, that if the visual alone was important then a book of The Fall pictures would be just as worthwhile as the film. However, these complaints ignore the power (and nature) of film as a primarily visual medium. This is a film for those who enjoying the actual act of watching a film--and it‘s probably best seen on a big screen.

The film is also a testament to the power of storytelling and the imagination. Roy’s story becomes so important to Alexandria that it becomes the driving force in her life, and her imagination gives the story life for us, the viewer. Even when bad things happen in real life, they serve as distractions from Roy’s colourful tale. The story simply takes over.

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Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru have a chemistry that is fascinating to watch. Supposedly (or at least according to IMDB), Untaru thought that Pace really was paraplegic, which may have helped. They seem really close, and their dialogue almost seems adlibbed, but in truth Untaru couldn’t really speak English, and she’d learned all of her lines phonetically. Her bad English is a help, though, and not a hindrance, somehow adding to the reality of each scene. Plus, she’s charming as hell.

The Fall is presented by David Fincher and Spike Jonze, and that duo alone should make you interested in seeing it. The DVD comes from Columbia/Tristar, and is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ration. The extras include some deleted scenes, a couple of commentaries, and two “behind-the-scenes” featurettes. Unfortunately the featurettes are not narrated, and appear to be nothing more than video production journals. Still, even a bare-bones DVD of The Fall would be worth going out of your way to see.

2 comments:

Doug Tilley said...

I've kept a really close eye on this film, though i've yet to actually see it. The reviews seemed wildly mixed when it was released, which tends to actually DRAW my interest, and i've heard some wonderful things about Catinca Untaru's performance. Strangely, none of the reviews i've read (including the raves for her performance on the Filmspotting podcast) seemed to mention her lack of English speaking ability.

Any idea why it took so much time for this film to be released? My understanding is that The Cell was rather successful financially, so I would have thought this would have some heat behind it (even without any big name stars).

Ash said...

Well, the info I have on Untaru's English skills comes from IMDB, so I dunno how credible it is. It wouldn't necessarily surprise me, though.

The only reason, I can see, for the delay is the wildly mixed reviews you mentioned. Some people just loathe the film, and dismiss it as a vanity project. Personally, I can't get into that head-space.