Whoever had the opportunity to see The Cell and previous advertising works from visualist - director Tarsem Singh knows that his domain of predilection lies between classic story telling and mind blowing art direction.
The Fall is an original story set in the mid '20s, in California. An injured stuntman (Lee Pace) loses the appetite for life when a young girl, incredibly and flawlessly played by the totally unknown Catinca Untaru, enters his room and starts talking to him. He eventually admit her intrusion and invents for her an epic story, driven by his mood and own experiments.
All the movie is constructed around relationships' deceptions, about how difficult it is, even for grown men, to deal with love, hate, vengeance, and sacrifice. All these emotions find an innocent judge in the mouth of Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who pushes her friend in his own incoherences, and show him his own fears and regrets.
This part of the movie is subtle, beautifully played, and surprisingly entertaining. Young Alexandria is a refreshing little piece of humanity, and Lee Pace plays a pathetic one, inevitably stirring empathy. The two characters evolves slowly towards each other, looking through the mirror of their tale. And their is the point of th emovie: The epic tale.
While the story in the story is quite conventional (a mysterious - desperate bandit seeks vengeance and falls in love for the princess of the man he wants to kill), the visual steals the show. And boy, what a show...
Cinematography is already fantastic in the "real world" part of the movie. Lights are beautiful, both naturals and artificial ones, focus is precise and intimist, editing is measured and natural.
And the opening sequence is maybe the most impressive slow-motion -low-key- opening I had to see in years.
But the fairy tale world, the world created by Roy Walker (Pace)
is per se, a must see. The sets are massive and magnificently shot by the crew. It succeeds in giving the epic dimension the story may have lacked. Many images of these lands are stunningly memorable. One could say they are too "advertised", giving an image too clean and rich to come from a feature film. But it would be unfair, because these visions (after all, it's a dreamy world) are thought and echoes pretty well to the back story.
Like in dreams, sets can change radically with two steps toward one direction, actions can be disjoint or seem incoherent. This process, already shown in The Cell, is here much more subtle and smooth. The information that was given in a raw state in The Cell (that kinda worked given the mind state of the patient) is here much more processed and linked to the real backstory.
Art direction is phenomenal (yeah, Tarsem loves hats !), and introduces new visual elements in every shot of the film.
And the music, of course, is awesome. Beethoven's seventh symphony, second movement, will stay in your mind for long after seeing the film.
I am being quite superlative here isn't it ? Well here is the down part: The film characters lacks the power the art direction and cinematography had. Don't get me wrong, they are beautiful characters, indeed, their inner fights is the same than most of us. They just seems to be mashed by the greatness of the visualism of the film. I felt a lot of empathy for Roy and Alexandria and the final message echoed in my mind not so long ago. However, their arc ends with the movie, and it does in a consistent way... Their arc is closed, their fears are dismissed , their main anguish, calmed. So the main "souvenir" of the movie stays the sets and the images they convey.
Not the two heroes.
I would like to say I had a similar problem with the Dark Knight... Heath Ledger is absolutely remarkable, too much... the whole movie fades behind him... Does it makes TDK a bad movie ? I don't think so. But I am sure The Joker in this case is better as a villain than TDK is as a movie.
So, yes, The Fall, IS, an absolute must see for me. It's beautiful, clever, and can be re watched many times, revealing each time new emotions and remembrances from your own past.
But I also think it won't find a large audience, and may be eventually forgotten. Intimist and stylish, this piece of seventh art sins by leaving too few space for the audience to appropriate themselves the characters and story.