So there was a lot of expectation for The Fall, his next film which came six years after The Cell and was financed with a lot of his own money. The trailer and marketing material for it looked even more spectacular than The Cell, and the hopes were that the acting and story would hold up to it.
One day she sees a man in one of the wards who has a broken back and is confined to his bed. He begins to tell her stories in order to amuse her, and for another, darker reason. By getting her hooked on his stories he thinks he can manipulate her for his own ends.
So the stories begin, and the we are transported into a beautiful and imaginative world which is controlled by the folly of the storyteller and strangely reflects his own life. He conjures up a group of five outlaws all out to seek revenge against the dreaded Governor Odious. The Masked Bandit, Luigi the explosives expert, the Indian an expert swordsman, Darwin with his great intellect (and helpful monkey), Otta the ex-slave and expert bowman, and the strange Mystic who can do some magical things. Together they set off to carry out their revenge against Odious and his army.
Seems a simple enough plot, but the beauty is that the stories the the man tells her are brought to life by Tarsem Singh's amazing mastery of the visuals through all aspects of film. The Fall has the most spectacular impact on the eyes, erupting onto the screen from the opening shot of the story being recited to the child.
Something that makes these sequences seem even more amazing is that, as in The Cell, the reality is not treated to the lavish eye of Singh, of course there is a touch, but it forms the basis of the norm, of the natural and realistic. The lighting and camera work is superb, but the costumes, sets and props all match the period and feel very real.
Within the dream sequences the costumes are bold and imaginative, as is the styling of the characters themselves, and the locations are some of the most gorgeous and striking in the world from India to Argentina and from Brazil to Cambodia, the list is impressive and provides for some amazing backdrops which are as rich and as lavish as the characters and the sets.
In the dream sequences the camera work mirrors the spectacular scenery, often pulling way back to capture the enormity and beauty of locations, however when the action is on the camera pans with the action setting up some superbly tense and exciting sequences.
Now I've praised the amazing cinematography, set design, locations and costumes enough, let's look at the rest of the film, because a film is not just how great looking it is, it's about story, about heart, and about connection with the audience. So let me praise those too.
The Fall is a wonderful story, and I believe there's a slightly hidden and extremely powerful part of the film that manages to hold everything together and capture the audience perfectly, and that's Catinca Untaru who plays Alexandria.
Not only is she a gorgeous girl, but she seems so natural on screen, especially some of the conversations she has with the storyteller, Roy Walker played by Lee Pace. There are some magical exchanges which feel just like a young inquisitive mind, and Pace's responses keep the feeling going.
The way she behaves through the early stages of the film, her mannerisms and gentle looks, are all what make her so adorable and so real, and that's something that helps underpin the story. After half an hour with this girl consuming the screen you're locked in and you find that you've connected with her, and it's a strong emotional connection which pays off for the film later on.
It's not too much to say that you actually do fall in love with this girl, the actress and the character, and that's apparent later on in the story when the reality of life intrudes.
The story is much stronger for her character being so adorable and magnetic, but it is a strong story already. The relationship between the girl and the storyteller builds quite quickly and the bond seems real, in fact in a few conversations between the two I felt that I was almost eavesdropping and not just watching a film.
Lee Pace gives a great performance too, and his band of unusual characters and the people they meet on the way give quite strong performances, although during the dream sequences they are much more melodramatic and much less talkative.
The first half of the film was fun and amusing, and what I was most surprised about was that it took it's time, itself concentrating on the storytelling and building these important relationships between the two main characters and with us, the audience.
Later on in the film it begins to turn darker, shade by shade, as the story in real life becomes tougher and reveals much more of the pain and anguish of the storyteller.
The latter part of the film is much more dark and brings the harsh light of reality and the truth of the relationship to bear on both characters, and it's nigh on heart breaking for both the girl and the audience. It really is very emotional, and the frank discussion and the change in relationship between the storyteller and the girl struck a chord with me.
A great aspect of this sequence that I loved, apart from the beautiful and emotive acting between the two leads, was the way nothing was fully explained at this point. In a way it was frustrating, but that empowered the scene and made you carry the uncertainty of the characters.
Just before the hugely emotional scene, the girl's own dream sequence which reflects what is happening around her is superbly done. At first you are looking at the imagery wondering what is going on, and when it clicks the images make a beautiful child-like sense. I loved the way Singh created this sequence and how it felt childish and managed to convey all her feels so easily and passionately.
One other thing I must mention before I sum up The Fall is the music. I tend not to notice musical tracks very often these days, but this one complimented the film and stood out enough to be noticed but never enough to take over from the scene. It lended itself well to the epic on screen shots.
This is a truly beautiful film. The costumes, sets, locations, props and cinematography is lavish and gorgeous. The acting between the leads is wonderful. The girl captures your heart so easily, and their relationship seems so very real. With a heartbreaking and emotionally strong ending, there still seems to be room for laughter and happiness, and that could be witnessed in the hardened battle ground of the press screening I was in.
The film has sweet storytelling mixed with the darker underlying story of the man telling it, and as the child-like side dips the darker, adult side lifts, and towards the height of the adult section the film delivers quite an emotional series of sequences.
A beautiful film that shows we're robbed of Singh's talents to have something like this delivered so infrequently. Here's to seeing his next wondrous film, and I've just written myself up to a higher mark for The Fall.
Buy or Rent from LOVEFiLM
Search for The Fall on Filmstalker stores
Filmstalker's Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008 page
UK IMDB Film Details