Background: Despite all the negative criticism thrown at music video and TV commercial director Tarsem Singh for his first film, The Cell, nobody could deny that it at least looked a lot cooler than the average psychotic thriller flick. With J. Lo and Vince Vaughn out of the way and no bizarre murderer plot to muddle things up, "Tarsem" returns with The Fall, a shining example of an independent film if there ever was one. Using virtually NO special effects and shot entirely on location (in 18 countries), Tarsem self-financed and self-everythinged the film, telling friend David Fincher, "I won’t have the passion and belligerence that I think this is going to take 10 years from now." He found Catinca Untaru in Romania and then cast Lee Pace ("Pushing Daisies," Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day), who will be a familiar face for American audiences. Alhough The Fall, which is a remake of the Bulgarian film Yo Ho Ho, first screened at film festivals in 2006, it was not picked up for distribution (by Roadside Attractions) until this year. Watch for it to be in the discussion for some technical Oscars next year.
Synopsis : In glorious black and white slow motion, we see the immediate aftermath of an accident involving a train, a bridge, a horse and a river. Later we learn that stuntman Roy Walker (Pace) has severely injured his legs in the accident and his girlfriend has run off with the film's leading man. Staying in the same L.A. hospital as Roy is Alexandria (Untaru), a young immigrant girl who broke her arm picking oranges. The two strike up what appears to be a cute little friendship, though we soon learn Roy, who is suicidal, is coaxing Alexandria to steal morphine pills for him from the hospital's dispensary. He does this by telling her a story about five "bandits" who are seeking revenge against Governor Odious. Roy is just making this up as he goes along, of course, but the characters in the story are, at least in Alexandria's head and on our screen, actual people who they see everyday. Roy grows increasingly desperate while Alexandria grows increasingly engrossed in the story. By the time she realizes what's going on, Roy is at his wit's end and the story has overwhelmed both of them. A nice little ending is followed by a bizarrely placed but otherwise very cool montage of stunts from some of Hollywood's greatest silent films.
+ The Oscar-worthy cinematography.
+ The first five minutes: black and white + classical music + slow motion = amazing.
+ Two of the best scene transitions I've seen all year: butterfly into reef and face into desert.
+ The totally believable innocence of Catinca Untaru (read a bizarrely written bio here).
+ Lee Pace, with whom I've been otherwise unfamiliar. His stardom might ratchet up a few notches if this makes it out of the arthouse circuit.
- The penultimate scene between Roy and Alexandria - it was supposed to carry the emotional weight of the film, but left me restless and unmoved.
- The "R" rating. You usually won't find me advocating a lower MPAA rating for a movie, but here it is. I would be totally fine with young teens entering this fantasy world (especially if it exposes them to independent film), and the violence is on a scale far lower than, for example, Prince Caspian.
- The distracting jerk couple behind me in the theater.
Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 3
Total: 45/50 = 90% = A-
Last Word: With only two credits to his name, we already know that Tarsem Singh is a filmmaker who drives critics crazy. Mission accomplished with The Fall, bound to be one of the most divisive and misunderstood films of the year. I'm not claiming to have fully grasped all of its symbolic richness, but I'm also, fortunately, not in a critic's position to have to pretend like I did. I went for the visuals and was surprised to find a nice little story hiding behind the surface, and despite the best efforts of the clowns sitting behind me in the theater, I took a mostly entertaining and exotic trip around the world. I was completely unmoved by the emotional heart of this film (the relationship between Alexandria and Roy), but the hypnotizing images and raw ambition of Singh's daring production are just too impressive to downgrade the film any further. This is high-class art (and it's not much more than that) deserving of the full price of theater admission. Dig this, and learn more about the production background from Marilyn Ferdinand's (Ferdy on Films) experience with The Fall.