A Review of Tarsem’s “The Fall”

CAPTION:  Mountains and water and trees, oh my!  And funny costumes, too!

The Stuntman, 3 June 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

The Fall opens with a disembodied symphony of black and white images done to the tune of Beethoven’s 7th where the beauty is in not fully understanding what you are watching. There’s a train, a bridge, a man in the water, a rope, and the hoisting up of a horse from the river. And there’s one quick shot of actress Karen Haacke, looking shocked and dreadfully beautiful as she (and not yet the audience) realizes what has happened that made my jaw drop.

Some movies, like the Indiana Jones films, are designed to evoke fond feelings from other movies. Then there are films like Tarsem “Don’t Say My Last Name” Singh’s The Fall, which exists to tell a tried and true story with new images we have never seen before. When we last met Tarsem, he gave us the trippy crime flick The Cell in which we were made to feel sympathy for a serial killer who literally became trapped inside Jennifer Lopez’s head–talk about HELL! With The Fall, Tarsem, wanton and reckless, creates a tenuous relationship with the audience as he weaves the tale of broken-hearted silent film era stuntman (Lee Pace) who suffers a severe injury after a foolish stunt (seen in the opening) and forms an unlikely friendship with a migrant farm girl (Catinca Untaru) who broke her arm falling from a tree while picking oranges.

The Fall shares some thematic similarities with Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the Polish Brothers’ Northfork as Pace’s character begins to construct an elaborate fantasy world for the little girl to pass the time. The images Tarsem creates are breathtaking, strange, and confounding and like nothing seen in modern cinematic myth-making. The vibrant director uses visual and textural transitions from scene to scene (witness a butterfly turn into an island, or spilled coffee turn into blood) like it’s nobody’s business. The Fall is a true independent film, shot over the course of four years in twenty-eight different countries and funded primarily by Tarsem himself (with some last minute help from contemporaries David Fincher and Spike Jonze). With no CGI alterations, part of the fun is trying to figure out how some of the scenes were shot. Sometimes distracting is trying to determine where they were shot–as I believe one of the scenes was done (is it even possible?) outside India’s Taj Mahal.

There’s sometimes an undercurrent of malevolence in the imagery, and often it is so over-the-top in its pageantry as to become incomprehensible inside the grander scheme of the simple fairy tale. Paradoxically it also reaches the level of silliness as one scene involving the overly dramatic death of a monkey named Wallace had me laughing so hard I almost cried. Meanwhile, the acting verges on amateurish. Justine Waddell in her dual roles as a nurse and princess is stunningly gorgeous but vapid. In the lead role, Pace, ranges from wooden to overly emotional, while the pint-size Untaru is so uncommonly naturalistic one wonders if she even realizes she was playing make-believe. These follies can be forgiven, though, as the movie celebrates the power of imagination and the lore of films. Where else are you going to find a man shot to death with dozens of arrows only to fall on his back and be held suspended by the very instruments of his death? Believe me, the scene is amazing.

The Fall succeeds as a movie for true film buffs. Critics like Roger Ebert, who sincerely love movies and their power to entertain, have raved about it, while others more cynical have dismissed it as a moving coffee-table book of empty modern art. Viewing it as a midweek matinée, I witnessed the only other patrons walk out, while some ushers looking to pass the time, sat in on the last ten minutes, which featured a montage of silent film era stunts that gloriously celebrated the old images that astounded their audiences just as much as Tarsem’s new images attempt to astound us. The ushers seemed to get a mad kick out of it, and so did I.

Originally Published on The Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460791/usercomments-36

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9 comments on “A Review of Tarsem’s “The Fall”

  1. erin says:

    Somewhere, Susan Sontag just cracked a smile. Thanks for the review!

  2. Ana says:

    Wonderful review David and what an amazing pic. Definitely will have to see The Fall.

  3. inbaelee says:

    Hi Dave, I was wondering if you knew exactly which piece of Beethoven’s 7th was used in the movie. I couldn’t make a strong enough mental note when the credit was rolling up in the theater.

    Regarding the movie, I very much enjoyed it – pretty much everything but the “dream sequence” which seemed out of point relative to the entirety of the movie.

    I believe it was the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th that was used (I could be wrong as I am no expert on classical music). –DHS

  4. Zac Magnum says:

    It’s the 2nd mvt of the 7th symphony.

    Oh and I saw this movie before I read your review and for the past 4 days now, all I’ve been doing, as sad as this may sound, is read reviews on the movie. It’s such a surreal feeling to have seen a movie so grossly satisfying that I need confirmation that it really is as good as it was and that I didn’t inflate the emotions because of what happened that night. I wondered whether the night made the movie better or if the movie made the night. As exciting as it is to find the prospect of love, it’s even more exciting to find a film whose merits lay solely on the intrinsic value of a movie and not on the monetary scale, which is the street standard judge of a film’s success. Tarsem’s “The Fall” revolves around the friendship and contrasting personae of the suicidal stunt man (Pace) and the adventurous little immigrant girl (Untaru). This motif of contrasts is carried out through the entire film as you will discover beautifully twined transitions from somber gloominess to a flood of colors, dull mumblings resembling terrible acting to captivating stage-like performances, youth and innocence to the harsh realities of cruel life, and, most importantly, the ultimate antithesis: to be or not to be. The range from simple to grand so tightly packaged in this wonderfully served feast of a movie makes even the highest grossing films need more ketchup.

  5. filmaday says:

    D.H.!

    So happy to be back in the blogosphere and I see you have some great work that I need to catch up on. I saw Tarsem’s quasi masterpiece and have the same feelings. I loved the transitions, which you rightly highlight as some of the films best moments.

    My critique would have to be with the story. I had no sympathy for The 4. As cute as the little girl is, Lee Pace isn’t really the greatest guy to have tell a story.

    So I’m in philly for about a month or so before I leave for film school. Want to catch a movie at the Ritz?

    Jesse

    Jesse, great to have you back! I’m always down for the Ritz. –DHS

  6. genevieve says:

    Nice review!

    I just saw the movie last night and was totally stunned. The costuming was so beautiful it made me cry (being a fashion designer, I dream of working on a project so incredibly realized as this one). I think that I also had reservations with the storytelling, but I think that maybe there is a connection there with the flatness of the adults and the lushness of the dream-life to Pan’s Labyrinth, a comparison I’m sure has been made many times. Lee Pace was very believable for me, even as a somewhat wooden storyteller, after all, his character was simply a patient trying to get a little girl to do something with him. I think that that human side really revealed itself when he lost it with the doctors after trying to die. It was a moment that sort of broke the spell for me, of him caring for Alexandria. I think that it was kind of a nice wabi-sabi element of the storytelling for me! I will most likely watch this again and again, just to be transported by the lushness of color and style. (And that incredibly adorable little girl, this coming from a person who generally finds child actors precocious and irritating!)

    I’ll be back to your blog to read more reviews. Thanks again!

    Genevieve, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. –DHS

  7. TX972 says:

    It wasn’t just the Beethoven that made this movie so memorable. The soundtrack, in general, is outstanding. So far, I can’t find a CD of the soundtrack. Is there one? Can anyone help?

    It doesn’t appear as if there is an official soundtrack, which seems be to be the case with many independent films. The use of music in this film was excellent, so it is a shame that no one saw fit to produce a accompanying soundtrack CD for the upcoming DVD release. –DHS

  8. answers.anyone? says:

    does anyone know what the other classical music is who wrote the classical music, the name of it, the movement ect. in the movie the fall?

    i already have Symphony No 7 in A major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto and i absolutely love it,
    but i just cant find any of the other gorgeous classical music from the movie.

    so if anyone has any helpful information that would be great!

    Hmmm…not even the almighty IMDB has a complete soundtrack listing for the film. I’m beginning to think one needs to contact Tarsem directly to find out the answers! –DHS

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