Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Fall


My first place prize for ultimate tag line for this film goes to "Proof that running around deserted landscapes in fantastic costumes is fun." This thought was running through my head for the majority of the fantasy-driven moments of this movie, along with the notion that director Tarsem Singh could not be more in love with the art of storytelling if he tried. Oh, that and sheer and utter bewilderment that this film (really? Are you sure?) has absolutely no computer generated imagery.

Wait...not even the scene with the M.C. Escher-esque staircases?

Nope.

Or the instance when one of the five mythical heroes is pierced in the back with so many arrows that when he falls backwards he is supported on a bed of spears?

Nuh uh.

In an era of films like Transformers and other CGI-driven action "gems" like The 300, it was so refreshing to watch a film that is completely void of falsity, at least in the visual sense. The Fall takes place in two worlds with different sets of central characters: the first is the confinement of a hospital in the 1920's/30's (the film isn't era-specific, but doesn't really need to be) with the young broken-armed and curious Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) and the twenty-something forlorn, suicidal Roy (Lee Pace), hospitalized for attempting to impress his lover by jumping off a bridge on his horse. The second is a mythical land created by Roy for Alexandria as a bribe for her to steal morphine pills for him in his ultimate attempt to end his self-loathing, self-pitying life.

This is what I mean when I say the film is void of falsity in the visual sense; some of the more interesting parts of the story are all fabricated verbally as Roy lays in his hospital bed, and translated visually by Alexandria's imagination. What the audience sees is what Alexandria sees in her mind's eye; when Roy describes an Indian with a wigwam, she doesn't understand this word, and instead we see the image of an Indian from India one would find in a royal palace with tigers and turbans.

What we eventually learn throughout the revelation of Roy's real life story of heartache and revenge is that he is creating this make-believe world for Alexandria, but also for his own satisfaction. It was clever to interweave make-believe and truth, revealing more about the characters than just a simple laid-up-in-hospital story would have done. Roy's jealousy and sense of revenge for his lost love's new lover drives both his suicide attempts in real life and the plot of his adventure story. In a way, his revenge is sought through his imagination; rendered paralyzed by his fall, he is completely impotent, unable to act and win back his true love. But in his story, he is the brave hero who gets the girl.

What the audience also sees visually is an explosion of color so rich and beautiful it brings tears to one's eyes. One of Roy's characters in his tale of revenge and adventure is a shocking-red fur coat-clad Charles Darwin, another a mystically ravishing princess who captures the beauty of a butterfly or a delicate flower with her wardrobe. There are moments for me when the story becomes a bit childish, especially in the beginning of Roy's storytelling stints. The narration seems a bit contrived, and I almost felt guilty at times for buying into it, a bit too akin to a simplistic children's tale of adventure. But once Alexandria becomes more attached to Roy, and the audience realizes the parallels drawn between real life and fiction, the emotional level of both the real-life story and the fabricated shoot up dramatically.

Tarsem has a gift for visual narrative, proved in the first few seconds of the film's opening credits by the slow-motion gray-scale scene of a horse and a man being recovered from a river. He also has an undeniable gift for casting found in little gap-toothed Catinca Untaru. One is not quite sure if she's ad-libbing those adorable lines and sequences, but it's hard to believe this little Romanian child was that clever. One can't underestimate the talent of a precocious child, however, and her performance is nonetheless incredible.

The Fall
is worth seeing for its visual merits and Untaru's performance alone. Children will be stunned at the visual imagery, and adventure tale is simple and fairly easy to follow. While kids may not pick up all the nuances of parellels between real life and fantasy, an adult certainly will while simultaneously being incredibly impressed with the visual imagery. Alexandria and Roy share such a sweet connection exemplified in many of the real life moments that subsequently spill over into the fantasy, and each effect each other's lives in different ways. A film about revenge, true love and human emotion, it's beautiful for its own visual merit as well as conceptually. If it doesn't get nominated for cinematography or costume design at next year's Oscars, there is something seriously wrong with this world.

1 comment:

ddmarie said...

so after the part where you said there is NO CGI, i had to stop reading and now i need to see it before i read the rest of this. cause it sounds awesome.