In a time when movie-making is more an art of digital collage rather than in-shot cinematography, it is entirely refreshing to see a film primarily devoid of computer graphics, favoring on-location, true-to-lens sights. It is even more refreshing to see a fantasy film executed so exquisitely, so impossibly, in such a way.
'The Fall' tells of a young girl's friendship with a bed-ridden Hollywood stuntman while they both recover in a hospital. But the film itself, really, is in the girl's imagination, and the potent, magical images are actualizations of her mind's eye, working together with the stuntman as he tells her a story.
The story of the film itself is not as strong as its visuals; the emotional investment the audience has in the characters is halfhearted, as endearing as young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is. It seems clear that she is not always acting, when she lies alongside Roy (Lee Pace), mumbling and stumbling over her perhaps ad-libbed lines.
Midway through the film I foresaw narrative collapse, as the plot in the 'real' world was stagnating, but the penultimate scenes did provide an emotional peak that nearly elevated the story to something more moving. Critics have said the film could have book of still photographs and worked on the same level; the story of the characters in the hospital could have indeed been better handled by a more balanced director, a storyman like Spielberg, but it would have been at the expense of director Tarsem's images. Nonetheless the story should not be so easily dismissed, and Tarsem, who understands the significance of showing rather than telling and the inherent power of the moving image, deserves all the praise that can be afforded to him by crabby critics.
What it does demonstrate is the gravitas of the real, the exemplary profoundness of reality devoid of green-screen. The sites are astounding, so much more so than something like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, where the sprawling, fantastical architecture of an alien planet is 'photorealistic' but still unable to fool the eye. The realities created in such films are illustrations crafted by very devoted and very talented artists, and can be appreciated as such, and often not as more. The filmmakers behind the recent Speedracer movie understood and embraced this to a sometimes-successful effect. And so does Tarsem who, in this film, rejects it as much as he can, as if to remind Hollywood that there is a world outside of the computer, waiting to be filmed.
'The Fall' has been called incredibly indulgent, as it was shot on location in 18 countries and largely self-funded by the director. Such is the 'indulgent' aspect. The truth of the matter is that a young child's imagination, which is the star of the film, could not have been done justice in any other way.
Throughout the picture I kept thinking, how could they afford to film this? Afterwards it was more appropriate to question how anyone could afford not to. I wish imagination was more common these days.