Tarsem's 'The Fall'

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Fall (2006, in theaters 2008, on DVD 2009)
$24.96, 117 mins. (plus extras)
A+ (though clearly not everyone's cup of ambrosia)

It's certainly not for everyone [considering the "style over substance" complaints appearing on Metacritic], but I've became captivated (friends would say, "obsessed") by Tarsem Singh's The Fall, which I bought used at Four Star Video in Madison -- intrigued by the DVD's packaging. Said negative evaluations are typified by Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, "There is never a sense that The Fall exists for any reason besides simply being something nice to look at. Yet no matter how good-looking a film may be, if it's as sleep-inducing as this, there's simply no point." I watched the film, then checked the reviews (Roger Ebert was the most effusively positive), then watched it again with the director's commentary, then watched the actor-writer commentary, and then watched the two "making of" featurettes. So far, I've watched the movie itself seven times in one month -- and enjoyed it every time. Countless reviewers (even The Onion's Tasha Robinson, who gave the film an A-) have given away major plot twists -- so, if you do want to watch it, don't read the reviews or even the synopsis on the film's own website.

The simple first-page plot at IMDb is OK, though: "In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s [I'd say around 1915] Los Angeles, an injured [novice] stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances." The feature was filmed all over the world in what I took at first to be computer-generated backgrounds and then learned were real -- incredible -- landscapes. Romanian 8-year-old (How old was she during the filming? Maybe only 5.) Catinca Untaru worked well for me as Alexandria; maybe others didn't fancy the child actress; it’s certainly possible. Lee Pace (of Pushing Daisies) was terrific.

And the whole production is, at a minimum, delightful eye candy. At a maximum, it's a triumph.

See what you think of the trailer (not, as I say, the synopsis) at the film's website. I find The Fall to be more rewarding every time I see it. The "story" equally involves the action (which is what I think many reviewers focused on) and on the characters (per all that English Major fol de rol I was teached in college). It's the evolving characters of Alexandria and Roy that balance the crude shoot-em-up storytelling of the visualized fantasies. Some reviewers apparently consider such character focus a thin story, but (when it's combined with the splendor and action of the fantasy) I found it heartily satisfying.

The behind-the-scenes information on the DVD makes clear the challenges involved in both working with a young girl who, moreover, spoke little English -- and in integrating stunning real-world locations that resemble fantasy worlds. People have compared it to such other movies as Pan's Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, and Brazil, to name three. There are elements of those productions, but The Fall stands on its own.

Note: It's bewilderingly "R"-rated. I can guess at reasons but none that makes a convincing case for such a strong restriction.


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