10 years ago a little movie came out called The Fall. I’d not seen anything by the director, Tarsem Singh, but his first film had people raving about the visual style and artistic vision. My curiosity was piqued, and so I sat down for what ended up being one of my favourite visual movie experiences.
The Fall is set in the 1920’s and follows a little girl named Alexandria, played by Catinca Untaru, recovering from a broken arm at a hospital. In her wanderings around the place she meets a paralyzed man named Roy, played by Lee Pace, who earns her trust and tells her a story.
The film plays out by intercutting the hospital scenes with the story Roy’s telling, as it plays out in her imagination, until Roy’s selfish intentions come full circle and Alexandria’s childish fantasies collide with reality.
The story of the film is very simple and I feel it is easy to follow, which works in the film’s favour as the visuals around it are impressive and are different for each part of the story.
The film opens with a black and white flashback scene that tells us how Roy got in the hospital without using words. The scene takes place around the opening credits to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, II. Allegretto. It’s a work of art in and of itself. The contrast of the black, white, and grey with the slow movement and the subtlety of the title card and credits work well together. It’s use of the grey scale and placement of the geometrical shapes and lines, as in the photo below, draws your eye to what you need to see without you knowing at this point that it’s important. When I first watched it, I went back to the beginning of the scene a few times to re-watch it as it’s a beautiful piece of work.
The hospital scenes are a muted colour palate. Pale colours and the hospital whites give the scene a subtle hue that gives a sense of the past as well as a sense of the dryness and reality. The colours that stand out are the green walls and topiary of the hospital and the oranges. Those break up the monotony of the hospital colours to keep it from seeming entirely bland.
The fantasy world is a complete change. It’s full of colours that are bright and bold. The costumes and scenery are vivid and full of contrast. Here Tarsem uses his lines and colours to paint a visual portrait of the story as Alexandria sees it in her mind. Every scene of the fantasy could be an example for how he achieves this. Every shot is meticulously crafted.
Tarsem filmed this picture over 4 years. He financed it himself by selling everything he had, except his house, making it a truly independent film. It was filmed in 20 countries and 70 different locations. He did not want to have it full of CGI to maintain the sense of reality, even in the fantasy sequences. All the locations are actual locations that can be visited. The fantasy sequences were filmed whenever he got the money to film them.
The main hospital scene was the biggest stretch of filming, as it was over the course of a 6 weeks in one location. As the lead actress was a Romanian child, Tarsem wanted to make it easier for continuity, so the hospital scenes were filmed in chronological order. During this time Catinca Untaru lost her teeth and maintained the typical growth of a child. She also became more comfortable with the other actors and learned English better, which helped make the film believable.
In an effort to aid in the believability when a miscommunication with Catinca led her to believe Lee Pace really was a paraplegic, Tarsem decided to let rest of the cast and crew believe that was the truth. As a result this, when a makeup artist walked in on Lee standing and almost fainted.
When he sent it to film festivals no one wanted to buy the distribution rights. He found the money himself to distribute it. The film made $79,611 on its opening weekend.
By those standards it should be considered a flop. However it drew attention, especially when released on DVD. People either love it or hate it. Some people thought the fantasy scenes were over acted; which the actors intentionally dramatized as the scenes were taking place in Alexandria’s mind in her childlike fantasy, so it made sense for them to do this.
It’s not about the fantasy, it’s about Roy and Alexandria.
I showed it to a group of students at the school and a couple of them loved it, but the rest didn’t. Mostly they had issue with the story and how it’s simple but seemed to be written just to fit the fantasy sequences. I personally don’t agree with that, feel like the point of the story is lost in that translation. It’s not about the fantasy, it’s about Roy and Alexandria.
I think it got to people as well. A couple of them looked a bit shell shocked. It’s heartbreaking in spots, the despair of Roy and Alexandria’s childlike innocence being tested by his despair and manipulations. How the story plays out in her mind as a result of Roy projecting his pain onto her.
The actors are believable as their characters. You could feel Roy’s broken spirit and Alexandria’s refusal to let it stay broken. She has genuinely bonded with him and through it they help each other in the end.
I feel it’s still underrated. Many people I talk to have not seen it and I feel like there’s so much to gain from the film, whether to just admire the art of the film, or to learn from it. It’s a lesson in how to make a film that you feel like you need to make no matter what. The passion for that comes through on every level; from the actors and crews commitment to the project over the extended filming time, to the director financing the film by himself, to the exacting detail of every shot looking exactly right for the director. I personally feel it has been overlooked for far too long.