Sometimes a movie is so bad, in whole or in part, that it actually makes me mad. If I could pull the plug on Tarsem Singh's career as a director, The Fall (2006) would be the last film he'd ever make.
It is a remake of a Bulgarian film, Yo Ho Ho (1981), well-received at international film festivals, but available on vhs & dvd only without subtitles, alas.
The award-winning original by published reviews was sensitively done, but its every good point is ruinously altered in the Englished rewrite, trading the Bulgarian original's reliance on character with a reliance on little more than set design. It took two years for Singh to get the film a theatrical release, & now I know why.
"Presented" by Spike Jonze & David Fletcher, The Fall often looks like one of Jonze's music videos, elegant & empty of actual content. Singh likewise cut his teeth doing television commercials & music videos. His idea of a feature film is pretty much only an 1990s MTV video but longer. Without the rock band or the Coca Cola to give it purpose, the feature length makes such a commercial interminable.
In a Catholic hospital in Los Angeles of the 1920s, a little girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), has her arm in a cast. She broke it picking oranges with her farm laborer family.
Never mind that farm laborers couldn't've paid for longterm hospitalization & that in any case no child needs longterm hospitalization waiting for her cast to come off. The complete illogicality of anything that happens is the least of this turkey's problems.
Lee Pace plays Roy as a kind of zombie who registers almost no emotion in any scene whether in his fantasy-role or his hospital-role.
Roy broke his back as a silent film stunt man & expects never to walk again. He's very depressed & intends to commit suicide. When Alexandria imposes herself on him on her hospital perambulations, he befriends her with the ulterior motive of tricking her into stealing morphine pills for him, so he can overdose.
She's an imaginative girl. Roy picks up on cues about her secret world, & adds his own ingredients, to weave a strange fantasy story for her. This is done to sustain her interest & devotion to him until he can convince her to secretly steal medication for him.
The film takes place largely in the imaginary world shared by Roy & the child. Some of the set design of the "fantasy" is spectacular, but the characters within these sometimes computer generated sets have no substance -- so it's like anime nicely drawn but nothing interesting happening.
The Bulgarian original this world was more of a spoof on classic swashbucklers & authentically related to childhood imagination. Nothing in the remake has any authenticity whatsoever; at best it's an aesthete art show utterly unrelated to the psychology of a child & a paralyzed man.real-world characters.
Fall's nonsensical tale of heroism & revenge is never the least bit captivating. It doesn't help that none of it is supposed to be happening. I'm already aware that movies aren't real but to enjoy them requires them to seem so for their duration. A story that shoves in your face the fact that none of it is actually occurring never permits suspension of disbelief, & cannot captivate, especially when the fantasy is so fully disconnected from characterizations.
Due to its attractive pictoriality, however, I struggled to keep watching this turd, tried to appreciate it for its physical beauty. But the fantasy world just never gets purposeful or tolerable.
There's some vague notion of the fantasy's attachment to the "real" world of Roy & Alexandria in the hospital. For instance, the "ex-slave" in the fantasy world is the ice deliveryman (we see the so-called "ex" slave in one fantasy sequence as the only member of the cast at the oars of a boat; nothing "ex" about it).
Unfortunately the ice deliveryman is a non-entity in the hospital part of the story, & even as a so-called "ex" slave, in a typical sequence he's the only member of the cast at the oars of their boat; nothing "ex" about his slavery.
Similarly, the masked bandit is Roy. And the kidnapped princess is a hospital nurse, hardly more developed then the ice man in the hospital setting. But any actual parallels are very poorly bolstered; the fantasy-world characters don't really comment on the hospital characters, the supporting cast having very little relevance or development of any kind.
There's a point late in the film where the live-action fantasy & CGI is replaced by stop motion animation so closely copied from short films of the Brother's Quay (though done by Wolfgang & Christoph Lauenstein) that it could only be assessed as a plagiarism. Worse, it in no way fits the film. Tarsem is on record stating it is all right to plagiarise if it's done with panache. There is no panache accessible through tracing paper.
After this mismatch moment of the film, the story taking place in the fantasy world falls all to pieces, & whatever little charm one may have tried patiently to impose on it proves never to have been justified.
The fantasy world scenes are so varied as to occasionally be winning despite that no story of merit unfolds.
I was momentarily very glad to be watching the film, when the whirling dervishes were dancing to a choral hymn with no more lyrics than "Googly Googly."
If anything else had been as arresting as every reference to "Googly," the film would've been only half bad. As it stands, I'd rather have been watching a documentary about the dervishes, who were the real deal.
The parts of the film that take place in the hospital are better though always undermined. That story is not going to go anywhere effective either, sad to say, but I found the child actress's performance extremely good. I loved her. I wished there was a whole lot less of the dumb fantasy world, & more just about her.
We never doubt for a moment that Ray is going to change his mind about committing suicide, thanks to the love & attention of a heartwarming child. So there's no suspense where he's concerned. There is a little suspense stems from Roy's worst behavior, as he's a threat to the child in ways the scrpt never quite grasps.
He attempts suicide in her presence, which had it succeeded would've damaged her for life. If only for that reason he kind of deserved to die, as his evil act amounted to such extreme psychological abuse of a child that I never believed he belonged anywhere except in prison after said abuse of a child. (In Yo Ho Ho such misbehavior only occurs in concert with drunkenness, but Roy is clearheaded when he launches his assault.)
Her fretting about his failed suicide afterward causes her to make one last try to get him the pills he claims to need, as she still believes they are to help him, not kill him. While climbing the shelves of drugs, she takes a fall & is badly injured.
It's her cracked skull that induces the Brothers Quay rip-off that matches nothing in the film. She regains consciousness in a hospital bed, with Roy at her side, as impossibly Roy's paralysis no longer keeps him from moving about the hospital (such lapse of possibility does not occur in Yo Ho Ho).
Never again does the film become even moderately competent. The film concludes with a long mawkish sequence in which both Roy & Alexandria weep copious tears & Roy finishes the fantasy tale by killing almost everybody off, further traumatizing the child.
I'm a sap at movies & can weep at the least sad thing. But this crying fest was just ignorant as re-imagined in the Englished version. Amidst tears Roy decides not to commit suicide after all, & in a coda, we're even shown that he wasn't paralyzed as he'd feared. That bastard deserved worse. And a well-told story wouldn't have had the coda.
This is one of the least satisfying A-budget films I've seen in a long time. Tarsem Singh should be doing pixel art on his home computer & printing laser copies to hand about to friends, not wasting the time & funds of people who love movies.
The director's earlier & similarly "pretty" film, The Cell (2000), I liked a great deal more, though it too had loads of visual content & not an ounce of substance otherwise. It was easier to embrace it in the manner of a coffeetable book full of pretty pictures that don't tell a story because it's just art.
The Fall sadly doesn't work on that level, for that one fine performance, by the child, induces the viewer to keep looking for a story of value & it's just never forthcoming. It needed a lot less of the visual excess & much more in the vincinity of story & character.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl