RetroReviews #34: The Fall (2006)

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JUNE 17, 2013 SCREENING: THE FALL (2006)

If nothing else, The Fall (2006) is unique. It’s not a good idea to throw that word around lightly, since even the most innovative films tend to draw on plots and formats you’ve seen before. However, I think it’s justified in this case. The film is based on even more obscure 1981 Bulgarian film named Yo Ho Ho (which I haven’t seen), but The Fall is an low budget English language film was entirely self-funded by director Tarsem Singh. It was filmed over a period of four years, in 20 different countries, and wasn’t even released in the United States until 2008, despite premiering at a film festival in 2006. Whether you like the film or not, it’s quite an accomplishment that The Fall even exists.

The movie uses a surreal type of storytelling, so I sat through the whole movie and was thoroughly confused what direction it was going, and you probably will be as well. That being said, the movie differs from other surrealist films (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Seventh Seal, etc.) because there is a legitimate reason given in this film for its oddball universe. In the case of The Fall, the framing story is about a Hollywood stunt man named Roy (Lee Pace) who is severely wounded and bedridden during World War I. He meets another patient at the hospital, a young foreign girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) who is recovering from a broken arm. He wants her to leave him alone at first, but since she is bored, he finally agrees to tell her an ongoing adventure story. Unfortunately, the story is just a manipulative device that the man uses to trick the young child into stealing morphine for him, convincing her that needs it to continue telling the story.

Since Roy is improvising and making it up as he goes along, the adventure story within takes on a bizarre, dream-like quality. Eventually, Roy inserts himself and the young girl as characters in the story, and the actors play duel roles as both the people in the hospital, and their counterparts in Roy’s imaginary world. Towards the end of the film, Alexandria awakens to find Roy gone, and it seemed as if the film was just going to reveal he died of a morphine overdose (which would have been a suitably depressing ending to tie up the events). Instead, it turned out he had been receiving a placebo, and confesses to the girl that the story was a made up fantasy and he only kept it going to convince her to get him more drugs. She insists he continue the story, so he angrily changes the direction of the story and kills off all the characters. She begins to cry, and finally he lets her insert her own touches on his story, and she takes things in a more positive direction.

The strange fantasy story that Roy told Alexandria never really worked for me, but I suspect that’s the point. Parts of it are interesting, and parts of it drag and go nowhere, although the art direction and costumes are always nice. The framing story set in the real world was a mixed bag as well: sometimes the adult and child actor share some wonderful chemistry and character moments, other times the girl’s accent gets grating, her nagging really begins to wear down the film, and Roy is such a manipulative sleazebag its hard to feel sympathy for him. Although this film has been one of the most unusual films I’ve ever reviewed, if I must compare it to something, I can recall 2005’s Tideland, which was also a fantasy-adventure story about a young girl dealing with a drug addict (in the case of Tideland, her parents were on heroin) and escaping into her own magical adventure stories she dreamed up in her head. Tideland approached the idea entirely differently, but I found it to be much more engaging than The Fall (and just thinking about it makes me want to review Tideland sometime)

But in spite of the fact that The Fall can be boring, annoying, and it seemingly goes nowhere (the ending to me wasn’t even a proper ending), I still liked it. Its flaws are overcome by its boldness and totally fresh cinematic approach. I don’t regret watching it, and I even feel like I should watch it again because perhaps I missed something the first time around. If you’re looking for a cinematic masterpiece, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a creative concept for a film, give it a shot.

*** out of ****

 

 

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