I had never heard of The Fall. My partner Joe had been reading good things about it, but since it had barely had a release, we thought, how good could it be? Well, we were stunned and amazed. It is simply one of the most imaginative, cinematic, beautiful and clever films that I’ve seen in quite some time! The story, set in the 1920s, is about a paralyzed and heartbroken Hollywood stuntman who weaves a magical tale of five mythical heroes (a fey and fancy Charles Darwin with a monkey companion among them - see photo above) to a little girl with a broken arm (Catinca Untaru in one of the best, most natural performaces I have ever seen by a child). There are telling and clever little details that illustrate the interactive nature of storytelling. For instance, when the stuntman tells of an “Indian” who has a wigwam and a squaw, the girl, who is from Romania and unfamiliar with Hollywood Cowboys and Indians, imagines a beturbaned Indian from India. The imagery blends fantastic and surreal elements throughout, and is so stunning that I was convinced it had to be CGI, but evidently it is not. This is the kind of whimsical, extravagant metanarrative that’s right up my alley, though I can see how one either buys it completely or hates it completely. But for me, all the threads work beautifully together to weave a tale of wonder and imagination.
So how is it that The Fall is virtually unknown? It first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, but didn’t receive a (very limited) theatrical release in the States until 2008, and went straight to DVD in most other countries. Tarsem, whose first feature was The Cell with JLo, made the movie himself over four years and in 28 countries… that is, he financed it completely himself, outside of any studio help, so as to have complete creative control. Tarsem was hoping to get a rave review from Roger Ebert (who was a fan of The Cell) when the film premiered, but unfortunately, Ebert was ill that week, so was unable to attend. Even more unfortunately, the generally negative responses to the film at the TIFF gave it a bad rep, which it was unable to overcome, even though Ebert later gave it four stars. The film is a meta-fairy tale for adults, which made it hard to peg down and market, according to several acquisition executives. Tarsem’s reputation as a commercial and music video director worked against the film, as many saw it as thus having more style than substance. And the fact that it was self-financed gave the film a reputation as a "vanity project," unworthy of being studio-financed or distributed. What a picture this paints of how the film market works in abominable ways! How it quashes originality while bolstering mediocrity! How many other gems of movies remain unseen because of similar situations?
Fortunately, the film is slowly receiving some recognition. It’s drawn comparisons to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and the DVD comes as “presented by David Fincher and Spike Jonze,” which lends it their stamp of approval. It’s a shame that as a result of one poor reception at its premiere, it hasn’t had the chance to gather the audience it deserves. I say, go rent it ASAP! Maybe it can gain a second life on DVD.