To balance out my pissy review of The Losers, I’d like to say a few words about the amazing film The Fall. Directed and independently financed by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (who goes by the moniker Tarsem in his professional life), this is the kind of visual storytelling that movies were invented for. I’ve always loved the story-within-a-story motif, and that’s the basic structure of The Fall.
In a hospital in 1920s Los Angeles, injured stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) befriends Alexandria, a young immigrant girl (played by Catinca Untaru) who has broken her arm while picking oranges in the groves. To pass the time, he makes up a fantastic epic tale of 5 adventurers on a quest for revenge against “Governor Odious,” who has done each of them a grave injustice. And so it is that The Black Bandit, an Indian warrior, the ex-slave Otta Benga, an Italian explosives expert named Luigi, and naturalist Charles Darwin (along with his pet monkey Wallace) travel the world, from one exotic locale to the next, in search of Odious.
But as the movie progresses and Alexandria becomes engrossed in the tale, we start to realize that the heartbroken and depressed Roy has ulterior motives. His broken spirit influences the direction of the story, while at the same time he manipulates Alexandria into helping him achieve a grim goal. There are many fine details woven into the film’s narrative, and the way that the characters from the “real” world of the hospital substitute in the “story” world is both clever, and charming.
The true power of this movie is in its visuals. You would be hard pressed to find more gorgeous landscapes and sets in any other film, and the cinematography is out of this world. But what’s even more amazing is that Tarsem eschewed CGI in favor of real-world locations. According to his director’s commentary, the film was made over the course of 4 years, using locations in 20 different countries, including including India, Indonesia, The Czech Republic, Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, Namibia, and China. Every natural, colorful scene in the movie is awe inspiring, from the remote Butterfly Reef of Fiji, to an underwater shot of an elephant swimming gracefully over us, to the rooftops of Jodhpur, the “Blue City” in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Think of the hyper-imaginative settings and sets from a Terry Gilliam movie, but all of them are real-world places.
“…my production value is going to be the earth; I’m going to use the entire world as my backdrop.” – Tarsem”
On the DVD cover, it says the film is “presented by” David Fincher and Spike Jonze, which I believe alludes to the fact that they were champions of the movie and helped it secure a distribution deal. Although not directly involved in the making of the film, their interest alone should attest to the level of craft involved in its making. Smartly written, wonderfully acted, and gorgeously visualized, The Fall is at once heartwarming and heart-wrenching, a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.
(If you’re interested, there’s a nice little feature on Tarsem and the movie at The New York Times here.)