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The first true masterpiece of 2008 has arrived just as we cross the mid-point of the year. Yes, the film did see its first release in 2006, however, after traveling through festivals, Tarsem Singh’s first feature in over six years debuts stateside to local theatres. The trailer alone shows how spectacular the cinematography and visual style will be, my only question hinged on whether the story and emotional weight would equal the scenery. With a cast of people I have never seen or heard of, besides “Pushing Daisies” star Lee Pace, I entered with some trepidation, hoping beyond hope that The Fall wouldn’t end up being eye-candy posing as a deep tale of sorrow, beauty, and the reason to go on living. Not only do the sights and sounds live up to expectations, the plot delves deep into the mental psyche of two broken souls finding each other when they need it the most. With a nice sprinkling of humor and an endearing quality of childhood, this tale cuts between reality and the minds’ of our two leads as they journey together inside a myth with bandits seeking revenge for the wrongs done to them. Much like The Wizard of Oz, we see the duality of characters from the real world standing in for the heroes in the story. Young Alexandria uses what she knows to encompass herself into the fairy tale as her new friend Roy weaves a yarn of intrigue, not to lift the child’s spirits, but instead for his own selfish gains.

A big part of the film can be seen in the line from Pace’s Roy, “Are you trying to save my soul?” He jokes it after Alexandria gives him some food she stole, a Eucharist from the hospital chapel, yet we as an audience know the truth behind those words. While this Romanian girl is really only attempting to connect with someone that will give her attention and friendship after breaking her arm working the orange groves, she is unintentionally doing just that. She is giving this man a reason to live, whether he realizes it himself or even wants it at all. Injuring himself with a suicide attempt on set of his new movie, this stunt man may be on the mend, but his heart is still broken from his girlfriend leaving for the film’s star. Still desperately trying to find a way to end his life, Roy begins to tell a story of a battle against insurmountable odds, a group of five bandits looking for revenge and not caring what happens to them in order to achieve it. Always stopping short, “at the best parts, when the story gets beautiful,” as Alexandria says in her broken English, Roy begins to use the girl in order to acquire pills for which to overdose on. He feels bad for his ruse and doesn’t want the young girl to see him in his current state, but the pain of his heart is too much to bear.

Visually stunning, the art direction is breathtaking. I don’t care what bad things I’ve heard about Tarsem’s first film The Cell, I need to see it as soon as possible based solely on the artistry displayed here. Right from the start we are treated to the credit sequence in slow motion, black and white beauty. Unaware in the moment of what it is exactly we are seeing, the subtle melancholy of the sequence is unshakable as we begin our entry into the real world at a convalescence hospital. The imagery stays with you, though, and shortly you are transported back into that world of intrigue with Eastern influences, vast dunes of sand, labyrinthine temples and cities, and clear, crisp imagery choreographed with a technical genius. Every character in the story comes from a different part of the world with a specific skill and culture. We have the African slave, the Indian swordsman, Charles Darwin and his monkey Wallace, the Teddy Roosevelt-esque explosive specialist, the mystic seeker brought forth from a burning tree, and our hero, the masked bandit. Each costume is crafted with care and grace, filling the frame with a sumptuous beauty to mesmerize you for the duration and allow the separation between this fabricated reality for the dreary one of pain and solitude always waiting to come back outside their minds.

While my eyes were treated to a gorgeous display, thankfully my mind was not left behind. One may anticipate this being a children’s film, a world of make believe as two souls come together in order to save each other. On the surface this fact can be agreed upon, however, this is a very dark tale that, maybe undeserving of its R-rating, pulls no punches as far as showing the cruelty of the world, rather than sugar-coating a message into the proceedings. As Roy says, “everything dies.” This is a very true statement and Tarsem never shies from showing the reality of that situation when necessary. Both in the real world and that of imagination, we are shown instances that are very difficult to watch. Emotionally draining at times, this is not your run-of-the-mill cautionary tale; it will tear your heart out and show you the pain that exists inside of Roy. Complete with a scene of stop-motion animation, showing us the inner workings of Alexandria’s mind in duress, this film takes you to the edge and sometimes over.

These moments of emotional weight hinge on the stellar performances of all involved; most importantly those of Pace and Catinca Untaru. Pace has the range to play the fictional hero fighting against the evil Governor Odious and still be the broken man, bedridden and finished with life. And Untaru shows an immense sense of realism as this Romanian girl listening to a tale of wonderment, dealing with issues of loss and sacrifice, complete with a very tenuous grasp on the English language. What at times seems too natural, her quizzical looks when not understanding what Pace says to her and therefore just smiling or repeating herself, becomes utter genius when we catch her lying to both mother and doctor as she plays translator between them. The poise, grace, and abundance of life, (both to smile and to cry), is unbelievable and without her, this film wouldn’t have been near as good as it is. The two have a brilliant rapport, causing the audience to giggle at their language gap and tongue-in-cheek moments when the story is shown to be just that, ever changing as the tellers evolve it, and to feel the bond being forged. With a climax that is difficult to watch, yet utterly entrancing through the tears and anger being let out, The Fall never ceases to amaze and I cannot wait to immerse my entire being into this magical world again.

The Fall 10/10

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photography:
courtesy of The Fall’s official website
Copyright ©2006 Googly Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Photographs by Stephen Berkman, Stephan Colover, Ged Claske, & Tarsem

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