Monday, July 28, 2008

MAD about Movies

The Best Movie You Never Heard About
Mary Ann de Stefano

One of my personal rules about the movies: the greater the hype, the bigger the flop.

When the movie’s stars appear ubiquitously on TV talk shows (gabbing about how much “fun” they had making the movie, rather than how good it is) you can be sure the buildup is intended to draw box office business that can’t be sustained once reviews appear.

While the hype-the-flop rule can help you avoid some painful movie experiences, it’s just as easy for quiet treasures to go unnoticed. The Fall is a jewel that almost slipped past me. It may be the best movie you never heard about.

Imagined for 17 years and filmed in 18 locations around the world over four years, this stunning visual treat is the result of director Tarsem Singh’s obsession. He even paid for the production out of his own pocket.

Search this film out, and be amazed by sights you’ve never seen before -- soldiers zigzagging on Escher-like staircases, an elephant swimming underwater, a blue city -- all real. No matte drawings. No computer graphics. Merely Tarsem's vision, some great location scouting, and the magic that happens when a shot is framed just so.

The colors in this movie are as extravagant as the settings. Watch to see how carefully Tarsem places bursts of color in a frame.

The story takes place in a Los Angeles hospital where Alexandria, recovering from a broken arm, meets Roy, a silent movie era stuntman with broken legs and a broken heart.

"I'll tell you a story," he says to her. "Close your eyes. There were five of them. The Indian..." Injured while making a cowboy movie, Roy intends "Native American." But the little girl is Romanian and doesn't understand the word as he does. She imagines a man in a turban.

As the fantasy story within a story unfolds, we hear Roy's words, but we see it through Alexandria's eyes. She understands something very different from what he's saying. We witness the story through the lens of her experiences, and we see how the images and people she's familiar with feed her imagination. Alexandria even takes herself into the story when she thinks Roy has lost control of it.

The Fall is much more than a delicious visual spectacle, it's about the relationship between the story teller and the one who hears it. It's about any art and the eye, mind, and heart of the beholder. It's an ode to imagination.

I wasn't quite sure about what happened at the end, and I think Tarsem meant the film to be subtly ambiguous, leaving the moviegoer to tie up a loose end herself. After all, the teller isn't the only who creates the tale.

Mary Ann de Stefano blogs about film’s life lessons and other pleasures of the cinema. Her childhood fascination with classic movies on a flickering TV screen delivered glimpses into adult life that led her to believe the answers to all life’s questions could be found in movies. When she’s not at a multiplex theater, an alternative cinema, or home watching movies, Mary Ann is a writer, editor and writing coach doing business as MAD about Words. Named for a play on her initials and passion for writing, her company also nurtures creativity through workshops and the Lounge -- a free networking website for writers. She writes short fiction and personal essays and lives in Winter Park, Florida.


Ginger Carlson, author said...

Thanks Maryanne for this great review! I loved The Fall, too, and loved the little girl who played Alexandria even more. I had ambivolence about the ending too, mostly because I don't appreciate movie-makers putting children in danger on screen for the sake of drama, but overall feel it was the best movie I have seen this year! Thanks for this post.

Mary Ann de Stefano said...

My favorite too. Thanks for commenting, Ginger. I share your concern about children in movies. From what I've read about this production and Tarsem Singh, I think they took great care with protecting the young actress who did such a great job. I think she had a real connection with the actor Lee Pace, though, because I don't think she could "act" the sparkle in her eyes. The Fall is coming out in DVD this September, and this will be one of the few times I buy a movie -- and regret my teeny weeny TV screen!