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Archive for June 3rd, 2010

We’ve been here before with Tarsem Singh (known as just Tarsem), his movie The Cell (2000) was a lot like its star Jennifer Lopez, great to look at but annoying and lacking substance, meaning or relevance. The Fall (2006) could have gone the same way but it gets away with it because it has more interesting and compelling characters.

Set in a hospital in Los Angeles during the time of silent cinema (probably the 1920’s). Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) an inquisitive young girl has broken her arm fruit picking.  Whist sneaking around the hospital playing she comes across Roy (Lee Pace) a stuntman who was injured possibly paralysed performing a stunt that went wrong.  He is also suffering with a broken heart as his girlfriend has left him for a movie star.  The two make an unlikely pair but form a bond as Roy starts telling Alexandria a fantasy story five heroes.  Roy’s motivation for his friendship with Alexandria is made clear to the audience but Alexandria is oblivious to it making his actions more sad than sinister.

The viewer is immediately transported away to the fantasy world of the five heroes, and it is like nothing you have ever seen before. Not to be confused with the dark worlds of Guillermo del Toro, Tarsem’s fantasy worlds are based more in reality with the addition of bold colours and stunning costumes.  With sprawling desert landscapes I have heard his visual style compared to the paintings of Dali, with his bold shapes and vivid primarily colours I think he also owes a debt to Matisse. Making use of over twenty locations around the world the visuals are never anything but stunning.

As Roy constructs his story we see it from Alexandria’s point of view, there is a nice touch where he describes a character as an Indian, from the other things he says it sounds as if he is talking about a Native American but she sees him as Sikh complete with Dastar (Turban).  He like all the other characters in the story take the image of people she knows or sees around the hospital.  Because Roy is making the story up as he goes along it changes with his mood and outlook, like the story of the five heroes the theme of the movie changes as it goes on.  Where the story Roy tells is nothing more than a story at the beginning it becomes interwoven with elements of truth about his own situation.  This connection between the two stories makes it intrinsically different to The Princess Bride that it has been compared to.  The movie further evolves without becoming the existential story it threatened at one point but actually finishes as a love letter to silent cinema and the stunts that made it possible before modern special effects.  As well as the way this is portrayed in movie it is also evident in the production that forgoes special visual effects.  There is a great stop-motion animated sequence depicting surgery that performance multiple purposes in the story and could easily be considered a dream of the character being operated on.  It is also a watershed moment in the movie; Roy has nothing left to give and Alexandria is powerless to help him, this has a devastating effect on the story he tells.

The visuals are amazing and the story compelling, the acting from a largely unknown cast is really good and the chemistry between the actors is great. Ultimately the films real flaw is the way it falls apart in the last act.  As the walls between the two stories begins to breakdown the film becomes a little incoherent.  It’s a movie I really enjoyed but couldn’t bring myself to love.

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