The Fall (2006)

(On DVD, December 2010) Writer/Director Tarsem Singh’s first full-length directorial effort was the somewhat simplistic The Cell: great visuals, underwhelming story.  Much of the same can also be said about The Fall, which presents fantastic images from the very first moments but doesn’t quite wrap up its story as efficiently as it could have.  Balancing on the screen performance of a very young actress, The Fall tries to go back and forth between a base reality set in a 1920ish Los Angeles hospital and a globe-spanning tall tale spun by one of the characters.  Allusions go back and forth between the two realms, and The Fall’s fantasy-world climax may be unique in that it depends on the mental state of a suicidal narrator for a happy ending.  What rankles a bit about the film is the way it will teeter back and forth between finely elliptical dialogue and a dull-as-dirt repetitive exchange between protagonist and child (eg; “Are you trying to save my soul?”).  The back-and-forth between the two levels of storytelling suggest far many more opportunities than are shown on-screen.  Fortunately, there’s a lot more to The Fall than story: the film really stretches to its fullest potential in presenting the fantastic vision of an imaginary quest taking place in a landscape coming from two dozen countries.  “Visually spectacular” doesn’t quite come close to describing the splendour of the film’s visuals, not when the Taj Mahal is one of the least impressive sets…

(Second viewing, On DVD, February 2011) After looking at The Fall twice more while listening to the audio commentary, I must say that film has grown a lot on me along the way.  Many of the things that bothered me about the film’s script turn out to be the by-product of a long and complicated production history that dared balance a quasi-improvisational shooting style to accommodate a six-year-old actress for the “base reality” of the film, and an extended production schedule that spanned four years and two dozen countries for the “fantasy reality” of the rest.  Considering the film’s amazing production, the otherwise disappointing making-of documentary on the DVD is mesmerizing for what it shows to be real.  Elephants can swim, amazing buildings and landscapes truly exist and Charles Darwin can be re-imagined as a fantasy adventure protagonist.  Even though the film’s story may not fulfill its full potential, the visuals certainly do: If nothing else, it’s reason enough to have a look at the film and call The Fall one of the decade’s forgotten gems: It’s a heck of a personal vision.  The DVD audio commentaries will make you like the film even more, as director Tarsem Singh tells us about the film’s amazing production, the personal crisis that led to his ambitiously self-financed effort and the perils of working with a very young actress.

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