, 117 m., 2006
Director: Tarsem Singh (as Tarsem)
Writers: Dan Gilroy (screenplay) and Nico Soultanakis (screenplay) & Tarsem Singh (screenplay) (as Tarsem), Valeri Petrov (as Valery Petrov) (1981 screenplay Yo Ho Ho)
Stars: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell
Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, a mad folly of a cinematic extravaganza, is like the most lucid yet surreal dream translated into an audacious cinematic experiment, somewhat akin to the pioneering work of Werner Herzog or David Lynch crossed with Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth). It’s also a celebration of the innocence of childhood, and the fertility of the imagination.
The plot: In 1920s Hollywood, a stunt man called Roy (Lee Pace of TV’s Pushing Daisies) is injured on the set of a Western and becomes an in-patient at a large Catholic hospital. He soon befriends a little Romanian orphan named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), and decides to tell her a fantastical story – one which changes all the time, depending upon the kind of story she wants to hear, and which takes shape (for the audience) in the form of how she imagines what he’s telling her.
It appears to be a sort of period take on The A-Team with a band of adventurers (including Roy as “The Black Bandit,” philosopher Charles Darwin and his monkey, an African slave, an Italian explosives expert, and an Indian; as they said in Good Will Hunting: “dots, not feathers”). They must wage war on Governor Odious, who attempted to strand them on a desert island the shape of a butterfly, but must fend off their massive attack. Simple.
Roy finds a personal stake in keeping his story going, because he has a newfound desire to commit suicide and requires the little girl to obtain some morphine for him. To Alexandria’s horror and chagrin, this takes “her” story to some disturbing and dark territory. This is above all, simply put, a gorgeous achievement.
The structure is ostensibly sight after astonishing sight: Darwin’s monkey chasing a butterfly through remarkable architecture, a city with rooftops of serulian blue, a “Labyrinth of Despair,” a series of intersecting walls of zig-zagging staircases, a man who appears from a burning tree, a series of arrows landing in someone’s back, and them subsequently falling backward and being held up by the arrows like a bed of nails for acupuncture, and on and on.
Tarsem Singh, a music video vet who started in features with the visionary sci-fi serial killer story The Cell (2000) with Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn and the ultra-creepy Vincent D’Onofrio, tells his story for perhaps no other reason than his desire to show us exciting new places and images (there are NO computer-generated effects!). At times, the surrealistic Acid Western imagery recalls Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970). The film was shot over four years in 28 (or was it 18?) countries (even the most remarkable locations existed as is), and is a vanity project stretched to the extreme. Lucky for us, then, that the vanity in this case yields such a wonderful and audience-pleasing result.
Note: The film is technically a remake of the 1981 Bulgarian production Yo ho ho, but make no mistake – for this is a true original.