Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Blu-ray Review: The Fall - Visually Stunning Story by a Film Magician

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blu-ray Review: The Fall - Visually Stunning Story by a Film Magician

by Tony Dayoub

There are those that subscribe to the notion that film should be a purely visual art medium, and lament that movies ever made the transition into sound at all. When you see The Fall, a work of such stunning beauty, it is easy to see why. Unlike my usual reviews, the feeling I got watching this film is better expressed through its visuals.

The movie follows a little girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a Romanian staying for a time at a hospital in Los Angeles circa 1910s, as her fractured arm heals. There she meets Roy (Lee Pace), a crippled stuntman. Despite her broken English, they develop a relationship as Roy tells her a fantastic story of five legendary heroes and their quest to vanquish the evil General Odious. As the story unfolds, so does the mystery behind Roy's injury, and the nature of his friendship with Alexandria.

The scale of the film is both small, in the intimate relationship between the two hospital patients, and grand in Alexandria's epic imaginations of Roy's simple story. Here is a photo that illustrates the feeble size of the participants in relation to their surroundings.

The director, Tarsem Singh, is best known as the MTV VMA-winner behind the fascinating video for R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" (1991). To cult film audiences he is better known as the director of the much maligned The Cell (2000), his only other full-length feature to date. Say what you will about that film, one can't deny it is an equally impressive film visually. Some of the imagery in The Fall is reminiscent of images from the earlier film.

Tarsem undeniably knows the impact of silent films and their visuals, as the final montage in The Fall attests. But dialogue and sound are equally important in the film. The language barrier between Roy and Alexandria subtly affects the narrative of Roy's story. Having just shot a western, stuntman Roy is clearly referring to a Native American in his story, when he explains why one of the heroes covers his eyes in the presence of a woman after having lost his squaw. But young Alexandria hears "Indian", and envisions this instead:

The Fall is stunningly told by not just a filmmaker but a film magician. It is a fable about the power of story to heal, transcend differences, and unite.

The Fall is available on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Stills provided courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.


Fletch said...

I think the term film magician is a bit of a misnomer. I enjoyed The Fall quite a bit, but I think he's better describer as a very good filmmaker and a visual artist. He can't be a film magician until he can take his gifts and combine them with the other elements needed to make an excellent all-around film.

Tony Dayoub said...


I appreciate your opinion on the film magician designation, which I felt I supported visually and in my writing.

I'd be interested in hearing your own support for why you think it's a misnomer. I think it's very easy to dismiss Tarsemas a purely visual director based on his previous work. But the auditory easter eggs in this film made me change my mind about him.

Joel Bocko said...

You have definitely made me want to see this got knocked pretty bad by some critics and I remember reading some capsule reviews which make fletch's remark look like Pauline Kael on Last Tango in Paris.

Not sure if I'll like it, but with visuals like that it's at least bound to be interesting.

Joel Bocko said...

"The language barrier between Roy and Alexandria subtly affects the narrative of Roy's story."

Also, this observation and the example you give are very intriguing. It reminds me of when my dad described the story of Peter Pan to me when I was a little kid, and in my mind I picture Pee-Wee Herman as Peter Pan. The fact that I know about Pee-Wee Herman before Peter Pan is kind of sad, but there you have it.

Dean Treadway said...

I don't think it matters what Tarsem is labeled, magician or no. It's enough to say that THE FALL is easily one of the most surprising, moving, and stunning works of 2008. Nothing this year has matched the heartfelt performances of its two leads (particularly the intuitive Cantinca Untaru), the film's obviously high level of cinematic craftsmanship, and Tarsem's screenplay, with its keen observations on fiction, lies, misery, joy, and childhood imagination.

Tony Dayoub said...


Checked out your site, and I'm adding it to my blogroll. Glad you enjoyed "The Fall".


Let me know what you think of the film once you see it.