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the fall

The Fall
Tarsem Singh
Cast: Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, Justine Waddell

Joanne Ross

June 10, 2008


Roy Walker (to Alexandria):  Are you here to save my soul?

With so many dreadful films flooding movie theaters month after month, it's a genuine pleasure to see one as masterfully realized as The Fall, directed by Tarsem Singh. Because of its depth, sensitivity, imagination and visual grandeur, The Fall reminds me why I love movies so much. It's what moviemaking is all about.

This is the second film for Singh—the first was 2001’s The Cell, a movie that introduced us to his visual aesthetic. Singh brings that same sensibility to The Fall. But the subject matter and genre of both films couldn’t be more different.

A fantasy/drama, with two well delineated, very distinct lead characters, The Fall is, thematically speaking, a story about human frailty, transcending personal tragedy, and salvation.

It is also a loving homage to old Hollywood—silent movies, epic adventures, exotic characters. I found myself thinking of actors like Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, and Sabu. Of swashbuckling pirates and Tales of The Arabian Nights. Of Tarzan and Jane. Of the great Technicolor films of the Golden Age of the 1930s and 40s. And in one particular scene, the birdseye aerial shots of the elaborate choreography in the Busby Berkeley musicals I used to watch on TV when I was a kid.

Los Angeles. Once Upon a Time . . . 

The Fall opens with an expository title sequence filmed in black and white (is someone dreaming perhaps?) which sets up the premise. Stuntman/actor Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is injured in a fall while performing a daring stunt during a silent movie shoot. Now a paraplegic and bedridden, he's recuperating at a hospital in Los Angeles. Also recuperating is 5 year-old Alexandria (the amazing Catinca Untaru), the daughter of an Indian farm worker. Alexandria fell and broke her left arm while working in the fields. The “mean people” burned down her home, and in the resulting chaos her father is killed.

Friendly, inquisitive, and restless, she wanders down the hospital halls and encounters Roy lying on his bed in the dark. The two strike up a friendship. To entertain her, Roy tells Alexandria a fable about seven characters who embark on a noble quest to kill the evil Governor Odious. The story unfolds over several visits, and Roy ends each session with a cliffhanger, like the Hollywood serials of the 30s – 50s, keeping Alexandria in suspense, eager to return for the next episode. The line separating reality and story begins to blur, and characters, events and objects from each side begin to bleed into the other revealing the subtext beneath the story (psychology, Dr. Freud?).

Now, what the staff and Alexandria don’t know involves Roy's contemplation of suicide. Suddenly his motive for entertaining Alexandria becomes suspect. Is this quid pro quo?

Singh masterfully orchestrates all of the elements into his own unique vision. Cast and crew filmed in locations throughout the globe, so we get to see shots of some of the greatest wonders of the world, including the Pyramids, the Great Wall, and the Rice Terraces. One standout: Singh and his designers film an extraordinary sequence reinterpreting M. C. Escher’s famous gravity-defying stair lithographs as a location in which the story characters move about. The story characters pursue Governor Odious against a fantasy landscape painted in vivid, dazzling colors reminiscent of the old Technicolor three-strip process. This is high-priced, high-end eye candy for sure. And it’s so much more.

Broken in body and spirit, Roy’s tale is really a cry for help screaming out from his equally broken mind. Translated from the spoken to the visual, and from the literal to the metamorphic, his story is an epic adventure projected onto the screen of Alexandria’s keen imagination. It suggests that even his darkest thoughts and desires can be transmuted into something beautiful and majestic. Could that be true of his dark, fractured life as well?

The acting here is top notch. Pace comes across as a handsome, likeable, everyman type capable of evoking the emotions and mental pain of a man whose life has changed irrevocably and who longs to escape the prison of his body.  High marks also go to the sensitive and natural Untaru, who reminds me of  Victoire Thivisol in the 1996 film, Ponette. In one crucial scene after Alexandria tries to help Roy for a second time, their interaction made me feel I was eavesdropping on a private conversation between a father and daughter who love one another deeply instead of two actors engaged in a scripted dialogue.

Thanks to the surefooted Singh and his actors, The Fall delivers the goods on both the dramatic and visual fronts. I can’t urge you strongly enough to see this movie. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience something truly unique*--JR


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