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.
I’ve seen this movie about 1-2 years ago. Simply beautiful… ❤
Thank you very much!
I would like to contribute to this discussion by adding “Yeah, what you said.” The Fall is a perfect film.
Wow, a perfect film! Why do you think it was not better received by critics?
I can see how some might think it’s pretentious and self-indulgent, especially as the director answered to nobody but himself. Perhaps the story rambles a bit. I am really just guessing here as I honestly think it’s flawless.
You are absolutely right about what a studio would have done to this film. That’s something that drives me crazy and shows why we need more diversity in pop culture. Even if you don’t care about whole swathes of the population being invisible or treated as extras, we need to open up the media to other voices because it’s become so damn boring!
I agree about the boringness and homogeneity of Hollywood product, which is why I mostly watch independent, “foreign” or classic movies. And almost no television, though of course I make exceptions for certain Actors.
Thank you for the post, linnet! I agree with you about the natural audience for the film. I’m glad to know that “Darwin” will play Horatio; he was also in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, it was such a surprise for me to find him there.
This film is simply a jewel, a real gift I will always thank Mr. Tarsem for. Unfortunately the Italian DVD had very little extras (none, really), but I’ve seen some clip in YouTube.
Catinca was extraordinary and, as you say, such beautiful images without CGI are awesome. This film is a tribute also to the blessed crazyness of Art (capital letter intended); isn’t it something crazy to have a filming crew in the Spanish Mancha (the land of Don Quijote, which adds more meaning to the adventure of the bandits) for only 3 seconds (or even less) in screen?
Ah, I didn’t realize Tarsem was that crazy 🙂 I love it that he was able to make his dream film and do it his way, even if he only spent a few minutes on the Mancha or Hadrian’s villa.
I am really looking forward to seeing Mr. Turner (when it comes on DVD).
Thanks for the reblog!
Reblogged this on Wormwood Scrubs and commented:
What I wanted to write about “The Fall” and I wasn’t capable of
I will be looking it up LM.
Hooray! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂
I read this with great interest because I gave “The Fall” a try a year or two ago because I was curious about Lee Pace’s acting chops – and just couldn’t get into it. I never made it to the story of the bandits at all, and the hospital wore me out. It was a flatliner for me, if you allow me the bad puns. Maybe the beautiful pictures would have swayed me, but the slow pace of the story stalled my interest and the little girl, as well-played as she was, annoyed me with her precociousness. I am now wondering whether I am all wrong because I trust your judgment and your praise here is high indeed…
Thanks for the comment, Guylty. It’s true that the story does not move quickly, though for me that was not a negative. I enjoyed the relaxed pace and the opportunity to luxuriate in the visuals. Still this kind of dreamy film is not for everyone. As a matter of fact, it rather reminded me of Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams” which is another slow moving, visually stunning film.
Yep, slow does not have to be bad. I shall give it another try 😉 Especially because I found LP quite nice to look at in this film 😉
He most certainly is! I had that screen cap experience where you keep taking more, because it’s such a pleasure 🙂
This looks right up my alley. Stunning scenery from what I’ve seen in this post. I’ll have to try to find it. Thanks!
Hope you like it!
ah, this comes back on my radar, read about it a while ago, never got round to watching but i love the concept. Reminds me of ‘1001 nights’ which was my favourite fairytale book in childhood. , i should probably take the time to enjoy it one afternoon. I can see how Lee would fit in a movie like this, that him in the last pic? wow… And i’m curious to hear the little girl’s accent 🙂 wonder if Lee learned any Romanian words from her during the shoots… sweet thought in a way as i never get to associate any of these big name actors with the place i come from 🙂
Yes, it is a bit like 1001 Nights, with the fantasy storytelling. It also reminded me of a lucid dream, because as he tells the story, the little girl gets into the action and even shows up in a miniature Black Bandit costume. There’s a whimsical element to it and a sly wit that I enjoyed. Lots of little jokes, like Darwin “stealing” ideas from Wallace, and the conflation of the American with the South Asian “Indian.” Catinca’s accent is sometimes a little hard to understand, but I was really impressed with her acting.
Yes, it’s Lee in that last screen cap. He looks amazing in this film, and it’s an example of the beauty of Youth. I have to admit my feelings toward him were mostly maternal but I really couldn’t take my eyes from him–all tousled hair and boyish vulnerability, but in a grown-up body 🙂
i was thinking the exact same thing, ‘beauty of youth’ feels spot on! nearly 6 years later, maybe 7 considering filming period and such he’s much more mature and has different features, although he’s still retained some of the quality he had, if i say elf-like people will laugh but it is what comes to mind 😉
I really want to see it now, it sounds almost like a fairy tale for adults and kids alike with layers that each can enjoy 🙂
To me he looks different every time I see him, but admittedly I’ve only seen Hobbit, Pettigrew, the Fall, and a few photos.
Very interesting review and comments.
Not to detract from the beauty of THE FALL, but no one mentioned (apparently unaware, as was I until I checked) that it is based on the 1981 Bulgarian film YO HO HO. Those interested can Google YO HO HO and find an English language trailer and the full length movie in Bulgarian.
Thank you! I noticed a reference to Yo Ho Ho in the Wikipedia article on “The Fall,” but didn’t follow up. It’s good to know the full movie is available.
Very interesting review and comments
I don’t know if you’re aware of it (I wasn’t until I checked), but THE FALL is based on YO HO HO, a 1981 Bulgarian film. If you Google that film, you will find an English language trailer as well as the complete movie in Bulgarian (without subtitles, but I sure you speak Bulgarian 🙂 – don’t we all?).
My bad – Contrary to my previous comment, the trailer is also in Bulgarian (but, as I suggested, that shouldn’t be a problem – ha ha).
I had a look, and it’s quite interesting–the original film seems to focus much more on pirates, which explains the “Yo Ho Ho.” But Tarsem followed certain bits quite closely. One of the pirates even has a pet monkey.