There are many reasons why we love and watch movies; the thrill of the chase with Indiana Jones, the superb narrative of The Godfather or Cinema Paradiso the visual spectacle of 2001 or Laurence of Arabia. Ultimately though we always watch them for entertainment. Recently I managed to catch a trailer for Tarsem Singh's The Fall and whilst I have become wary of trailers in recent times by spoiling too much of the film I watched this 2 minute short in absolute amazement and desperately wanted to see this as and when it came out. For Tarsem Singh this project is one he's been in the making for some 17 years. First he came up with the initial ideas and storylines then he found the locations where he wanted to shoot this feature and finally with all the pieces of this puzzle falling into place he found his leading lady.
The story is a simple enough affair... set in the 1920s, Roy Walker (Lee Pace) plays a stuntman who is hospitalised after a stunt he was working on goes wrong. Whilst there he realises that he's lost the use of his legs, he's going to be paralysed for the rest of his life. He finds this somewhat difficult to come to terms with and ultimately decides to take his own life. A young girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) meanders into his life and he starts telling her the story of Alexander The Great.
This story telling session ultimately evolves into an almost comic book creation of a group of 5 adventurers intent on killing a certain Governor Odious (Daniel Caltigarone). These adventurers consist of Luigi, the explosives expert (Robin Smith), The Indian (Jeetu Verma), Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley) the self freed slave and The Masked Bandit (Emil Hostina). All have their own personal reasons for wanting Odious dead, and whilst the words Walker provide the base scenario for this fantasy tale it is Alexandria's vivid imagination which shapes and brings these characters to life.
When this fell through the door I looked forward to seeing how the visuals which were in the brief trailer were padded out, extended and stitched together to produce a worthwhile venture. It quickly became apparent that The Fall doesn't just rest on its visual splendour though; the associated narrative, which in fact works on three different levels, is a wondrous affair at times light in tone, later somewhat darker and increasingly engaging where you the viewer, like young Alexandria, desperately want to know the continuing chapters of story being told. The narrative itself is a combination of the relationship Walker builds up between himself and Alexandria combined with his desperation in finding he is paralysed, his desire for death and the associated storyline of the pairs own imaginations. All of these three combinations though combine effectively to produce a feast which is ultimately more than the sum of its parts.
I'm always wary when a film has such a young child as a leading actor, more often than not the narrative doesn't quite work the actor in question perhaps not having the weight needed for such a role or being too distracted by events surrounding them. This is not always the case though as Cinema Paradiso or a young Kirsten Dunst in Interview With A Vampire shows, young Catinca Untaru who was only 9 when this was released (and obviously younger whilst filming) is perfect for this role. After seeing this film you can hardly imagine anyone else playing this part with such innocence, such wonder and at at times such fear or sadness. Her performance is exemplary to say the least and it becomes apparent through Tarsem's commentary that he should be credited with having the patience and understanding to direct her naturally, let her almost dictate the flow and speed of the shots in which she stars. Her wonderment in this film is an absolute joy to behold and for me she is only one of many factors which pull this film from pretentious artistic nonsense for the pure sake of it into a film which carries you along with the ride it is creating.
As the story unfolds it's more than apparent that Tarsem has taken some liberty with the age old Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy then took the friends and family she loved and transferred them to her coma induced fantasy so here young Alexandria populates the characters from Walker's story by the people she has come across in the hospital in which she is recovering. There are some beautiful slight almost twists in the storyline as well indicating the difference between what is being told and what is being imagined. The story of Alexander The Great with his army is imagined as Alexander and a small band of men; so obviously it's difficult for her to wonder why Alexander couldn't share out a helmet of water between his thirsty troop. Similarly Alexandria loves the Asian continent so when Walker discusses an Indian, whilst he is referring to an native American Indian she visualises an Asian Indian Prince. When Walker discusses his squaw and his wigwam Alexandria imagines his princess and the palace he lives in. It shows the differences between the adult and child's imagination; hers more expressive, tailoring his story to her own perception of the world. If the mirroring of the imaginary and real world is not sufficient for artistic license Tarsem at one point even falls into animation to show what one of the characters is currently experiencing. Even this scene mirrors the history of the character in question, what they have learned or experienced throughout the film, their fears again reflected by what they have already experienced.
The visuals in the magic world are pure unadulterated brilliance from the initial locations Tarsem hunted for, the framing and cinematography and the incredible glorious visual palette. Whilst in this magical world the images burst onto your screen and appear almost painted, they are indeed pure works of art yet not pretentious in anyway. They flow from scene to scene never once becoming boring and all of them simply jaw dropping. Like the superbly shot Brotherhood of the Wolf each individual frame within these imagined sections could be framed and displayed in a gallery, each one is simply glorious, are a joy to behold and will have you seeking them out to view again and again, to demonstrate to others what wonders cinema is capable of producing.
From a narrative point of view I was a little let down by the third act, it seems far too rushed, too compressed in comparison to what went before. I do not wish to point out why but Tarsem had a superb opportunity at that stage to alter the direction of the film as a whole to investigate other parts of a child's imagination and this he does to a certain degree, it's just not long enough to explore it with the same degree that he did earlier in the film and that for me was a little of a let down. What we're left with though is a stunning piece of work; an engaging narrative on multiple levels coupled with absolutely beautiful pieces of cinema which only occur once in a blue moon. In the end though what made this film for me was not the storyline (much as I enjoyed it and was propelled along with it) it was not the wide open locations and cinematography; it was that performance by Catinca Untaru. The quizzical expressions on her face, the sense of joy she obviously feels, the movements of her arm and fingers as she listens to Walker's story. They all add up to a wonderful performance, one only helped along with Tarsem's direction in letting her be herself, allowing her to fit into and tell the story in her own way. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful.
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