Foreign Film Fridays 03: The Fall (2006)

We are, all of us, the story and the storyteller. We are the villain and the hero of our own making. But what if the lines between fantasy and reality blurred until it became impossible to tell one from the other?

the-fall

Original Title: The Fall
Year: 2006
Country: India & USA
Language: English/Romanian
Subtitles: English
Length: 1hr 58min
Availability: Amazon

The Fall is a fantasy epic, filmed over the span of four years, with all the magical realism of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel and the visual beauty of a living, breathing art piece.  But more than just an artistic statement, this film grapples with emotionally charged themes that by no means make it a simple or lighthearted tale of redemption. If viewers are willing to take the plunge into the realm of moral ambiguity, this film more than delivers a masterful blend of philosophical inquiry and fantastical storytelling.

The two main protagonists are as disparate as human beings can be: the ever hopeful five-year-old Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is no stranger to personal tragedy – already in her short life she has had to witness much pain and suffering – yet she maintains her childlike innocence in the face of all adversity; by comparison, her new found friend is a convalescing film star turned stuntman named Roy (Lee Pace). Roy is intent on ending his life by any means necessary… even if it means manipulating the one person who has come to care for him with all the love that a child’s heart can possess. Theirs is a fateful encounter that is as intense as it is brief. The Fall will leave you wanting more long after the credits roll.

The story-within-a-story device takes viewers to a neutral middle-ground wrought of fantasy and child-like imagination. It is only there that the two protagonists can engage in an allegorical discourse via mutual storytelling. With each day that passes, their dramatic tale grows until it blossoms into a beautiful secret that keeps each of them alive – but for different reasons. Roy, desperate to end his life, lives day-to-day just to accumulate the pills that Alexandria sneaks from the dispensary, which she in turn exchanges for more stories. All the while, she is unaware that her beloved storyteller is planning the final act of of his tale to end in a real life tragedy. The ending of this film is nothing short of sublime, passionate, and intriguing.

But perhaps the greatest triumph of The Fall is the palpable father-daughter chemistry between Catinca’s and Lee’s characters. More than the vivid cinematography or the intricate layering of reality upon fantasy upon reality, these two actors work surprisingly well together. They make the perfect bandit duo in their fantasy world and affectionate friends in the real world. Lee couldn’t have done better to portray himself as her fictional “long lost” bandit-masked father than if he really had been.

For those who have a hard time placing Roy’s actor, it is the one and only: the Lee Pace. With a face that not only blends fluidly from emotion to emotion but can also shift with ease on the gender spectrum, his acting skills are on a level that I have never before encountered. I didn’t realize how many films I had seen him in until I consulted The Google Machine for proof of his existence outside of Pushing Daisies. Apparently, I’d seen him in many, many films but had never realized. He looks like someone new each time, which I attribute more to his unique ability to assume entirely new sets of mannerisms for each of his characters than to a wardrobe department, although they did a stand up, ovation worthy job on The Hobbit for his character. I sincerely believe that he deserves any role he wants.

And not to be outdone by her incredibly talented cast member, Catinca is also quite the actress herself despite being so young. Perhaps it’s her inexperience and vitality that help her shine in such a heavy role. There are no pretenses. Even as she sobs for Lee Pace’s character to choose life over death, I am hard pressed to find a single moment when she is not 100% convincing. She is honest and raw, realistically so. Her childlike optimism and ingenuity have lent this film the perfect amount of innocence to counterbalance the darkness. And if you’re perceptive enough, you can see her growing up with the film: her height adjusting, her English skills improving, her affectionate bond with Lee developing on level within and -out of the role – all of it that much more endearing. The Fall was an excellent debut into the film industry for her, though I am rather sad to see that she has not secured many more roles since then. Maybe, that is for the better – seeing how so many child stars end up like Shia LaBeouf or Amanda Bynes.

The film is not without its gaffes but it is cleverly scripted so that viewers will gain fresh insight each time they re-watch to catch missed moments, segues, and facial expressions. In all, it is incredible in its scope and breadth of creativity. The melding of cultures, the subtle unfolding of its subplots, and the breathtaking candor with which it grasps a harsh and terrifying reality… if you have two hours to devote to this film, it will be well spent.

WARNING: Best watched not alone. This is not a film for the faint of heart as it requires significant courage to delve into the dark recesses of depression, outright manipulation, and suicide. Many reviewers who have scored this film poorly seem to be divided into two camps: the first being, the film is too dark and complex for them to follow on an emotional/intellectual level, and the second side can’t seem to understand the little girl’s broken English. In the first case, be assured that the film ends well even if it may not be the ending you had in mind; however, like all good art it will take you on an emotional, sensory adventure first. It will make you think (as well as feel) long and hard about certain issues. Those are not comfortable emotions or thoughts for many people to grapple with for 2 hours. I would say that it is as dark, if not darker than, Pan’s Labyrinth. Also, many of the scenes are stories that will rewrite themselves to reflect either Roy’s or Alexandria’s interpretation of the tale. If you fall into the category of the second case: there are subtitles available for those who are not auditory or who have trouble understanding Catinca’s charmingly accented English.

I put off watching this film for almost a year, mainly because a friend warned me that although it ended very well – on a good psychological point, she emphasized – this wasn’t the kind of film that anyone could watch without first being made to experience the emotional equivalent of a roller coaster ride. Normally, I’m all for art that sparks an inspirational revolution within the soul, mind, and heart; but something about the way she said it gave me pause for concern. She was right to warn me. I saw it for the first time with a group of friends who had mostly already seen it before. Everyone, except for myself and one other, were in the know about the story line and exactly how it would end… and they all passed me tissue after tissue, and eventually the whole damned box, as I devolved into a sobbing mess of humanity right along with the plot. Friends are the best.

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