Film Reviews

The Fall Tarsem

Rating - 8/10

I, like many, am immediately suspicious of movies with a young child occupying a lead role.  There's just something so insipid when a mostly uncomprehending actor is exploited for a quality that gets an audience off in some way, that quality with children being cuteness.  Tarsem's The Fall is a film centered around a cute kid, but I didn't mind that here.  He extracts a performance out of Cantinca Untaru that, while adorable, feels unforced and honest in the way she is allowed to be a curious girl, not a stage trained mouthpiece for vulgarized Hollywood notions of how funny kids should act.

Tarsem's success with Untaru is key to making the heart of the film resonant, as it takes place inside her imagination.  Stuck in a hospital with a broken arm in silent-era Los Angeles, Untaru pictures an epic tale improvised by a fellow patient, an injured stuntman played by Lee Pace.  The imaginary narrative alternates with intrusions from the real hospital environment barely comprehended.

The juxtaposition of fantastic elements with a less magical reality brings to mind Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.  The Fall lacks the real-world monstrosity and fantasy darkness that made Del Toro's film one of the best of this decade.  It does not have the enticing ambiguity of Pan's Labyrinth and spends much more time in the fantasy world of a much younger heroine.  The comparison is deserved, however, and The Fall surprises by developing a touching relationship between the stuntman and the little girl that verges at times upon tragedy.  Buried in the visual majesty is a heartfelt and dazzling tribute to the power and redemption of storytelling.

Of course, that theme on its own is not particularly novel or an indicator of quality.  One of the most arbitrary, poorest fantasies Hollywood ever released, M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water, memorably contained a lot of hokum about the importance of storytelling.  It is a difficult theme to write about, both because it can go so very, very wrong, and because the successful execution of it relies so much on intangibles, filmatism, the use of moving light and sound to approximate the grandeur of imagination.

In this most difficult to grasp achievement, Tarsem excells, travelling the world to bring to life a story as imagined by a child.  The heroes wear broadly characteristic costumes bursting with color and speak in the theatrically simple and declarative style that children think of for adventures.  They traverse grand landscapes and imposing, labyrinthine structures painted with bold dashes of color.  A world this large and stylistically bold may not have been created since Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain back in 1973. 

Where Jodorowsky created a fearless dash into his universe of psychedelic symbolism, however, Tarsem expertly keeps his fantasia teathered to a somewhat real world and relateable characters.  It is the effortless interplay between these two worlds, at first playful, and by the end shockingly poignant, that makes The Fall more than a visual marvel, but a story worth experiencing.