For the average cinephile, I’m sure you’ve seen three of the most celebrated directors of our time indulging their nostalgia over the gradual loss of need for film in filmmaking. Digital filmmaking ushered by progress in photo technology had been both a welcome gift of modernity but not without some old school masters still looking back with love over the Golden Age of Filmmaking.
Martin Scorcese did it with his much celebrated Academy Award winning Hugo just last year. Of course the Academy’s Best Film of 2011, The Artist by French director, Michel Hazanavicius also comes to mind. And then we have Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino’s “postmodern obsession with citations from the history of the cinema to present a formidable challenge to film audiences, critics, scholars and historians” [Peter Bondanella, Indiana University]. But not much was discussed of yet another welcome and, for me, more refreshing take on the metafilmmaking streak our seasoned directors do than the 2006 epic of a much quieter disposition by Indian director, Tarsem Sighn with The Fall.
The story of The Fall is much more straight forward and simpler than the complex set-up of Hugo and Inglorious Basterd and for that matter, The Artist. But what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for elaborate and childlike wonder.
The Fall is set in 1920s Los Angeles, in a hospital where little girl Alexandria (played by candid Catinca Untaru) has been confined because of a broken arm. She makes an odd friend out of Roy (Lee Pace), a movie stuntman in recovery after a bad fall on horse during a stunt. Hospital ward’s infamous mischief maker, Alexandria accepts and believes Roy’s promise of an epic story only if she supplies him of large doses of morphine, but not before a major climax.
A story within a story, Roy tells the tale of a group of characters banished by one evil named Governor Odious. Roy’s words translated into this colorful fairytale interpretation (or misinterpretation) by Alexandria. One reviewer mentions the chemistry of Roy’s storytelling and Alexandria’s directorial take as we see in the film.
It’s amazing how Alexandria reconstruct the story in her mind with so much vividness and sometimes in odd collage, so that the Indian in Roy’s “script” who was supposed to be an American Indian, translates into an Indian from India in Alexandria’s mind because that is the Indian she is familiar with. In Alexandria’s imagination, the real world becomes her resources, for faces, characters, and scenery. Her mind’s eye, the lens to a landscape of cinematographic brilliance we seldom see in today’s film of claustrophobic imaginings of the present and the future.
The meta is more subtly referenced in the film which is my only criticism of Martin Scorcese and Inglorious Basterds. The Fall, I believe gives filmmaking more of the credit in its depiction of the dynamics of filmmaking in its Golden Age. Less to almost no use of CGI, favoring the more magical and practical effects, The Fall just reveals itself to be the more adept student of the art.
Soon, the fantasy “bleeds” into reality as Roy’s intentions of suicide becomes more obvious and Alexandria suffers the result of his irresponsibility. One must also merit the psychology of the film. Of how Alexandria tries to make much sense of what she sees around her, a child unable to put into words strange things adult do. She doesn’t much understand Roy’s motivations or his intentions, but she feels them in the stories he tells, and in a way, that is how Alexandria makes much sense of the odd world of the hospital, where people die, nurses and doctors do adult staff in the ward, or the queer patient with a case of hypochondria. It is with a story and pictures that Roy coaxed Alexandria, and it is with stories that they both understood each other in this poignant confrontational scene.
No high brow lecturing scenes of the merits of filmmaking of old, just plain storytelling with compelling cinematography and production value. Of course we have the obligatory old film clips in the end but the convincing resolution and salvation of all the characters, including the story within the story just makes it up for me.
With so much heart put into making the film, shot in almost 20 countries, gorgeous and stylistic films like The Fall will only come once in a lifetime and a better epic choice to make much use of that Sony Bravia than the bluray version of the Twilight Saga.