It probably pays before watching 2006 film The Fall to know that Director Tarsem Singh was originally a music video producer and that he was responsible for the odd, dreamlike Jennifer Lopez flick, The Cell.
Both the above suggest that Singh is preoccupied with an intensely visual, artistic style over, say, a substantial plot, and this unusual film certainly bears this out.
Set in 1920s L.A., The Fall opens with some surreal black and white footage which, we learn, is a film being shot. The film in which stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) was seriously injured. Now hospitalised, Roy has lost the use of his legs as well as the woman he loves, and he can’t see what’s to live for.
Prone in his bed in the half-empty hospital, he encounters fellow patient Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a bold and inquisitive child who befriends him and becomes a regular at his bedside as he spins stories for her entertainment. But as Roy continues to mourn his losses, Alexandria is in danger of being drawn into his determination to end his own story in the way he sees fit.
It took the director several years and visits to over 20 countries to complete this film and the result is unique. To amuse Alexandria, Roy creates a fiction about a band of characters who have sworn vengeance on the evil Governor Odious after he imprisons them on a desert island. The colourful group – which includes a freed slave, an Indian, the Blue Bandit and Charles Darwin – travel strange lands and encounter great dangers in order to seek out their enemy.Taking in vast labyrinths, stunning stretches of desert, swimming elephants and burning trees containing mystic seers, these imaginative parts of the film are so visually rich as to veer into the self indulgence. But as well as being a chance for the director to fully vent his love of intense, spectacular scenes, these interludes also serve as a comment on a child’s imagination.
Some of the details – such as Charles Darwin’s fluffy coat – are distractingly daft, but while the emphasis on the imagery does threaten to frustrate the plot hungry viewer, there is something rewarding in watching a film which so shamelessly devotes its time to the power of a beautiful image.If the film was this and only this, it would grow tedious very quickly, despite the beauty, but the lack of substance in the story world is saved by the real world events. As the focus returns, often, to the hospital, we watch Roy and Alexandria develop a believable and touching amity, one which Roy finds an unnerving use for, and it is through this relationship that the film is able to explore more weighty themes of storytelling, innocence and the perspectives of adult versus child.
Lee Pace, known for his role as Ned in Pushing Daisies, is fantastic in the role of Roy, just the right mixture of haunted and good hearted, but the real star is Untaru as the funny little girl, an amazing, naturalistic actress who you could watch all day long.Singh self financed this movie – well of course he did, if he’d have pitched it, they’d probably have had him certified as an X-rated lunatic – and like anyone with a passion, he had created something that no-one else can. Or indeed, would probably want to.
It’s a divisive style. Some will delight in its extravagance, others will snooze at its indulgence, but either way it’s an effort which stands resolute and unashamedly ardent, from the multi-layered symbolism of its title to the extravagance of its many locations. You have to applaud the passion, even whilst you’re pondering the necessity of yet another spectacular desert scene.