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‘The Fall’: Imagination Forges a Bond Between a Girl and a Stuntman

June 13, 2008

By Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Jun. 13–The first thing you need to know about “The Fall” is that, unless I’ve misapprehended things entirely, there is nothing religious or metaphorical about the title. It’s, in fact, about two people who have been hospitalized in 1920s L. A. after very real falls — a silent movie stunt man who fell (or attempted suicide) off a bridge and an adorable little girl who fell out of a tree and broke her arm.

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THE FALL Three and a half stars (out of four) STARRING: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru and Justine Waddell DIRECTOR: Tarsem (Singh) RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes RATING: R for violence. THE LOWDOWN: A young girl in an L. A. hospital in the ’20s befriends a bedridden patient who spins a wild fantasy for her about superheroes escaping “Governor Odious.”

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The next thing you need to know is that you can’t let the first half-hour put you off. Yes, it’s off-putting to know so little of what’s happening; little pieces of flashback and narrative are strewn like wrapped candy around the living room. You know that you’ll have no idea if it’s any good or not until you can find them and get the blasted cellophane off, but it’s all going to have to be in due time. That’s why I gave you a head start by laying out what takes a while to discover.

Believe me, due time eventually comes.

The final thing you need to know about “The Fall” is that you can’t believe anyone who tells you that this wild, visionary spectacle is a “coffee-table movie.” It’s far more interesting than that. In fact, it’s one of the strangest combinations of hallucination and intimate, affecting narrative I’ve ever seen — so strange that it is, I think, altogether singular.

Its director, Tarsem (Singh), is a video and commercial director of some distinction (R. E. M.’s “Losing My Religion,” En Vogue’s “Hold On,” Nike commercials). His wild and woolly first film was “The Cell,” a kind of lunatic combo platter of Vogue magazine photo shoot and serial-killer fantasy starring Jennifer Lopez and a lot of ideas stolen from surrealism and “The Story of O.”

As extraordinary as that was, it doesn’t begin to prepare you for “The Fall,” which is, in its way, a much simpler and more affecting movie.

It was shot over four years in 28 countries, including some of the most exotic and beautiful locations on Earth (yes, India’s Taj Mahal among them). Its story is based on that of a 1981 Bulgarian film by Zako Heskija called “Yo Ho Ho.” The number of Americans who’ve seen that one wouldn’t fill the smallest theater in town, no doubt.

Nevertheless, I can’t imagine that it comes anywhere close to the kind of intimate spectacle Tarsem achieves here.

The story is really terribly simple. The two patients in the hospital bond. Roy — a mysteriously depressed man apparently recovering from a love affair gone south — tells adorable little Alexandria a long, involved tale about fantastic superheroes vowing vengeance against a wretched “Governor Odious.”

Among those fantastic superheroes is a fellow with a pet monkey named Charles Darwin. Yes, Charles Darwin. Another is a masked “Black Bandit” (played by Lee Pace, who plays the laid-up stuntman).

There is a love interest in the fantastic story (featuring Justine Waddell, who is also a nurse in the hospital).

So what we’re watching, then, are the two tales as they are spun out: the wild, fantastic adventure tale Roy invents, which takes place in the most wondrous locations on Earth, and the small story of Roy and Alexandria themselves and their deeply sad friendship in convalescence. It is the latter, I assure you, that ultimately becomes extraordinarily moving, as the hero’s physical and spiritual pain overwhelm his ability to sustain a happy narrative for his enraptured listener.

Whatever this movie is, it’s one-of-a-kind. And despite its visionary splendor, what makes it rather wonderful is the tenderness and deep feelings that suffuse the whole thing.

As it proceeds, “The Fall” does nothing but rise.–

jsimon@buffnews.com

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