As epic movies go, The Fall didn’t make much money ($3.2 million). Yet it is unforgettable, one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Director Tarsem Singh funded the film from his earnings making commercials and music videos, and he clung tenaciously to his own artistic vision. The result was a negative critical reception at the Toronto Film Festival and serious setbacks finding a distributor. The problem? Nobody knew what demographic to market it to. It didn’t fit the mold.
It seems to me that the natural audience for this film is adult women. (Apparently we do not constitute a real demographic in the eyes of studio moguls.) It features Very Beautiful Men, exotic locations, romance, whimsy, tears, and a kind, curious, mischievous little girl. Here is a summary by Damon Wise of The Guardian:
[The Fall is] a dazzling, funny and surprisingly emotional fantasy about a little girl named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru, then six) who befriends a bedridden stuntman named Roy (Lee Pace) in a 1920s California hospital. Roy is suicidal after a love affair has gone wrong, and to cajole the little girl into stealing deadly morphine for him he spins her a long-winded yarn about an evil governor and the five mythic heroes (including a masked bandit, Charles Darwin and a freed slave) who pursue him.
Can you imagine what the studios would have done with this? First, they would get rid of the little girl. The mythic heroes would need superpowers. There would have to be a LOT more explosions. And why waste time and money on so many beautiful, dreamlike panoramas when you could have a wild car chase through the streets of Delhi, and use CGI to create the fantasy sequences?
The originality of the film can be summed up in the fact that it is about a friendship between a six year old girl and a young man in his twenties, and the story they weave, together, when both are laid up in the hospital. Imagine pitching THAT in Hollywood. Yet there are many layers to this tale, beginning with the title, “The Fall.” The first frames of the film, shot in glorious, stylized black and white, allude to the fall that put Roy in the hospital. Later in the film, little Alexandria also suffers a physical fall. But we also witness a Fall From Grace, and a Redemption.
The Fall is about the romance of filmmaking (it is set in California in the early days of silent movies). And it is about storytelling, the power of archetypal people and places and plots to move us. Most of all it is about the stories we tell ourselves. Each of us is the star in a movie we also write and direct, even if (just as in real filmmaking) things don’t always turn out as we planned.
A lot of money was spent to make this film, and it shows. Tarsem has an eye for beauty, and he spent years scouting the locations, places no CGI animator could dream up. Once you see the images, you will never forget them, most especially because they are real. Similarly, the costumes by Eiko Ishioka are exquisite.
One of the most unforgettable moments is the absurd, sublime footage of an elephant swimming in crystal blue-green waters. This was perfectly in tune with the feel of the story.
Each of the bandits has his own moment, and each is fascinating in his own right. My favorites, besides the Black Bandit, the alter ego of Roy himself, were the Indian, played by the handsome Jeetu Verma, and Leo Bill as Charles Darwin (with a pet monkey named Wallace). For all you Shakespeare lovers out there, Leo will be playing Horatio opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in the National Theatre’s upcoming production of Hamlet.
As in The Wizard of Oz, the fantasy characters also appear in the real life world of 1920s Los Angeles and the hospital where Alexandria and Roy are convalescing. I suspect there are many more allusions to classic film which went over my head.
Some found the film pretentious, but I don’t detect in it any desire to impress the audience with the obscure and profound. The core of the film lies in simple human experience: the pain of unrequited love, the passion of youth, the comforts of friendship and human contact, the innocence of children, the consolation of fantasy and dreams.
See this film for yourself. You won’t regret it.
For more caps see Barsine’s post.