Movies You May Have Missed: The Fall

Trying to judge the potential future of a filmmaker by their first film is often a difficult call, but a lot can be gleaned from a first outing.  Some filmmakers start weak, but the potential is there (Fincher with Alien 3, being a key example).  Some obviously don’t have any talent or skill from the beginning and will never develop (looking at you Ratner).  But some, some filmmakers rocket out of the starting gate as champions.  It’s a rare occurrence, but it does happen.  From the first few frames of Memento, most of us knew that Christopher Nolan was going to be a one of the leaders of the new generation of filmmakers.  Anyone who saw Shaun of the Dead knew that Edgar Wright‘s was a career to follow.  Being John Malkovich instantly cemented Spike Jonze as an A-List director.  But one of my favorite in the new generation of cinematic auteurs is one that flew under the radar of almost everyone I know.  His name is Tarsem Singh and he made his cinematic debut with a film called The Cell.  While The Cell was a commercial failure, I saw the brilliance of this first time directors work.  So imagine my surprise when he didn’t put another film into theaters for almost six years.  As it turns out, he spent most of that time and a significant amount of his own money shooting one of the most beautiful cinematic experiences of the last twenty years.  The film was called The Fall and it was, most definitely, a movie you may have missed.

Its hard to describe The Fall as anything but an extravagant visual masterpiece.  Tarsem has become known for his rich visuals and from the opening frames of The Fall, it’s easy to see why.  The seemingly meaningless black and white HDR slow motion opening sets the stage for the story to come.  Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a five year old girl who’s arm is suspended in a quarter body cast after a fall in the orange grove where her immigrant family works, wanders the hallways of a Los Angeles hospital causing mischief.  On one such outing, Alexandria meets Roy (Lee Pace), a Hollywood stuntman who is paralyzed from the waist down after suffering a bad fall of his own on the set of a movie.

A quick friendship forms between Roy and Alexandria as he begins to weave an epic tale for her.  Alexandria sees each character in the story as someone in her real life.

First, there is the former slave, Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), who escaped after his brother died of heat exhaustion in the fields and swore that he would be responsible for Governor Odious’s death.

Then, The Indian (Jeetu Verna).  His wife was kidnaped by the evil Governor Odious who places her in the Labyrinth of Despair where she eventually committed suicide.  He too swore that he would be responsible for Governor Odious’s death.

Luigi (Robin Smith) was an explosives expert.  Governor Odious had him exiled out of fear because his bombs were powerful enough to prove a threat to Odious’s reign.  He swore that he would be responsible for Governor Odious’s death.

Next was the English naturalist, Charles Darwin (Leo Bill) who spent most of his career seeking Americanus Exoticus, a rare species of butterfly.  When Governor Odious mocked him by sending him a dead Americanus Exoticus, Darwin too swore that he would be responsible for Governor Odious’s death.

Lastly, the Masked Bandit had escaped execution at the hands of Governor Odious and swore that he would be responsible for Governor Odious’s death.

The five men set out on on a quest for revenge, joined by a mysterious mystic (Julian Bleach) who emerged from a tree and displayed supernatural power.

The bedridden Roy spins an epic tale of romance, action and revenge, using it as a ploy to get Alexandria to steal morphine for him.  After losing the love of his life (Justine Waddell) to the star of the film he was working on (Daniel Caltagirone), Roy sees no point in continuing on with life.  As Roy spirals intro depression, Alexandria begins to insert herself into the story, trying to steer it, and him, back in a positive direction.  Through the story they create together, both Roy and Alexandria come to terms with the losses they have both suffered.

While many critics have claimed the script is like that of a student film, “made specifically to get back at an ex-girlfriend who recently dumped the filmmaker for one of his professors,” I disagree.  Like Leonardo DeVinci once said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and I think that while the story is mostly surface, it carries an astounding amount of depth because of it.  The beauty of any epic tale isn’t in the depth, but how it’s told and Tarsem’s stylistic and beautiful tale is exceptionally executed.

Shot in twenty-eight countries for four years, The Fall is a visual masterpiece.  The romantic imagery is absolutely stunning.  And what makes it even better?  There are absolutely zero computer-generated images in the film.  Every beautiful frame, location and costume is 100% genuine.  The Labyrinth of Despair, the Blue Bandit’s burial place, all of it is real.  Tarsem traveled the world with his cast, building a world born of Roy’s words and Alexandria’s imagination. Like a weird mix of David Lean, Terry Gilliam and Salvador Dali, Tarsems visuals are stunning and fantastical.  Peter Jackson was praised for his forced perspective in Lord of the Rings, but Tarsem is truly the master of non-CG visual elements, constantly playing tricks on your eyes, making the world of the film intricate and beautiful.

It’s also very difficult to talk about this movie without mentioning the performances of its two leads, Catinca Untaru and Lee Pace.  I have been a big fan of Lee Pace for years.  His work in Pushing Daisies was charmingly old fashioned, but his performance in The Fall is truly extraordinary.  As Roy, Pace brings to life a man who’s will to live has been absolutely shattered.  While emotionally crippled, Pace allows Roy’s romanticism seep through.  He manages to be both the hero and the villain of his own story and his work with Unataru is heartbreaking and sweet.  Untaru is, without any doubt, the true hero of this film.  Her innocent charm and ongoing struggle with the English language is unbelievably endearing.  She sputters and struggles, but her enthusiasm and love of Roy makes it impossible to avoid an emotional investment.

While it only has a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Fall stands as one of the most truly original films in recent memory.  Its obscenely beautiful visuals alone make it worth a visit.  But don’t take my word for it.  The Fall was made outside of the studio system and both David Fincher and Spike Jonze were so taken with it that they both put their names on it to help it find distribution.  The film has also been referred to as a great companion piece to Guillermo Del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth.  If we are to judge a filmmakers pedigree by the company he keeps, you couldn’t ask for a higher recommendation for both Tarsem and The Fall then that.

Don’t forget to check out Tarsem’s follow up to the Fall, Immortals, this weekend in theaters everywhere.  He is currently filming Mirror Mirror for a 2012 release.

~ by Andrew Craig on November 9, 2011.

2 Responses to “Movies You May Have Missed: The Fall”

  1. This is completely one of my total favorite movies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: