Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Cast: Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, Jeetu Verma, Justine Waddell
Director: Tarsem
Runtime: 117 min.
Rating: ***** (Masterpiece)
Genre: Fantasy, Drama

        I do not know how else to put it but to say that you might not have seen anything quite like Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, for the simple reason there doesn’t exist another one. It is one of the most astounding films I have ever seen. While you’re inside its many worlds, both real and imagined, you would be swept away in a journey across millions of miles that feels like a motion picture experience that is as much about revealing itself as it is about exploring the farthest realms of cinema. Its ambition is so breathtakingly immense, its images so divinely pure, its emotions so profoundly moving right now it feels like the monolith I have been waiting for since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only time will tell that. I do not know how to describe it, as a reviewer, and no words might be able to convey to you even remotely the epic grandeur and the exhilarating beauty that is inside this film. I’m sure I’ll fall terribly flat yet I’ll give it a try. A film that has been made over four years and gifts us with images imagined and collected from around the world with a child’s inhibited wonder to them does inspire me.
        I’ll tread through my review carefully and divulge details sparingly. If you find the review overloaded with adjectives, that is for two reasons – (i) this film deserves every one of them and many more, and (ii) I’ll not speak too much except for performing the services of describing to you what the film is all about, and will probably save myself for a year-end essay on this great film. I wish everybody watches it, for their own sake, and see the richness of the world that has been imagined and created by this very fine filmmaker.
        It is a tale set in Los Angeles, somewhere before 1920 for sure, because the film supplies us with images from Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. which was released in 1924. The logic that drives my assumption will clear itself to you once you see the film. In a hospital, in two different wards, are a little girl of five named Alexandria who has been admitted after she fractured her left arm, and a silent film stuntman named Roy who might have crippled his legs during a dangerous horse-jump sequence. Roy is a man devastated, and we only learn the reasons for his despair later, which I will leave you to figure out. He is contemplating morphine, loads of them, so that he can end everything while asleep. Alexandria, by chance, runs into him. They start talking, and he, the movie-man starts telling her a story, trying to feed her mind with a fantastical tale. She is hooked.
        Little kids understand a whole lot more than what we give them credit for. Their imagination charts across territories so swiftly and they are so impressionable at their little age that modern films need to feed them with the most wildly imaginative tales. The little kids can absorb a lot more than us, they can feel a significantly wider and different range of images than us, images whose hidden power is often lost on us grown ups who simply care to appreciate its scenic beauty. This girl here, Alexandria, a sprightly little miracle, doesn’t understand many words, is of Indian origin, and speaks English as five year olds new to the language speak. She moves about wards absorbing the wonder of every little detail the world around has to offer. She is played by Catinca Untaru, a five year old actress from Romania, and she is the heart of this film. She is the heart of its beauty, and it will be days before her innocent charm will leave you. She is so beautiful that the very sight of her fires up one’s imaginations. I’m not sure there’s going to be another performance like hers all year.
        I have read reviews that have complained endlessly about the lack of a narrative, about the perfunctory nature of the tale. I believe that is an incorrect inference from a rather correct observation. The Fall doesn’t serve a narrative as much as it serves the very art of narration. What is a story but the sum total of influences upon one’s mind? A yarn is personal in nature, and the narrator ascribes personal attributes to it. What we see on the screen doesn’t exist just for the sake of it, or the beauty of it. The fantastical tale, constructed and narrated by the tired adult mind of Roy, and imagined by the widely effervescent mind of Alexandria is probably the most interesting exploration of the art of cinematic narration since Alain Resnais’ Last Year At Marienbad. There’re many words that Roy uses instinctively, and that do find mention in the limited vocabulary of little Alexandria. That doesn’t perturb her one bit, and she fills the spaces with her impressions and her imaginations. She doesn’t always buy into the romanticism which Roy seems to blend along with his tales. Little kids imagine worlds not from some other planet, but from around them. There’s a devastatingly poignant scene during the later part of the film. Pay attention to the words spoken. Pay attention to how they’re spoken. Pay attention to the images conjured up. You’ll then realize who is narrating and who is listening. It is one of the great scenes of modern times, a profoundly moving and insightful observation on the relationship between the filmmaker and his audience.
        The conjurer behind this miracle is Tarsem Singh, or as he likes to call himself, Tarsem. He made that Jennifer Lopez psychological thriller The Cell all those years ago, and though I haven’t seen that film, the impression that I usually get from people who have is that it is a visual deluge that all but wipes the story clean off the slate. I can’t say much about that film, except to say that in The Fall Tarsem has created one of the great masterpieces of cinema. He has made this film over four years, trotting across the globe and scouting locations whilst he traveled to shoot his music videos and television commercials. It is impossible to imagine, in today’s time, that there isn’t even a shred of computer generated imagery, and that every sight in it is real (I can vouch for Agra and Jodhpur). But the true splendor doesn’t lie in the awesome spectacles, it lay in those little moments that capture little Catinca weaving those very images. Tarsem does what few filmmakers have ever been able to do when it comes to their most personal projects – he indulges in it and he takes in us alongwith him. And this here is the film he always wanted to make. What a great vision. And rightly so, the tone of The Fall cannot be trapped into one single note. It is audacious, it is romantic, it is ecstatic, it is goofy and it is tragic and overwhelmingly so. It is as great a film there has been this year, and yes, that includes one of my favorite films The Dark Knight. The Fall feels like one of the most stunning achievements for cinema and one of its most beautiful creations, and here I assure you, there cannot be and there will not be a better film this year. This is a film you and your kid ought to watch. Together.

Note: Roger Ebert has penned a remarkable essay paying tribute to Tarsem. Follow the below link –

1 comment:

Amar said...

I also completely fell in love with this movie once I watched it. More than the visual masterpiece, it deserves more accolades for the art of story-telling. Even the people who had disliked this movie couldn't stop themselves from gluing to the seat till the very end of this movie.

I had one small doubt though. I know that the character of Alexandria had many friends from India in the orchards of Southern California and that's why he mis-interpreted Roy's 'Indian' word. But I did not get the visual imagery created by Alexandria which covers mostly Indian forts and palaces which she would have hardly seen by that time. Mostly, it has been considered that narration is done by Roy and images have been put up by Alexandria. I personally think from many examples that images have been put up by both i.e. Roy and Alexandria in the story from start to end. What do you think?