STARRING: Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, Emil Hostina, Justine Waddell

2008, 117 Minutes, Directed by:
Tarsem Singh

The Fall is a “story-within-a-story” movie, like Labyrinth or The Never-Ending Story or even The Wizard of Oz for that matter. We witness storyteller and listener during the very act of creation.

It’s a durable and fascinating genre because it highlights the “how” and “why” of the stories we invent. Weak entries into the genre jerk us around with “it’s all just a dream” or by making trite, obvious connections between the storyteller’s life and the story, Mulholland Dr. possibly the best recent example of the genre, in which the protagonist’s hopes, shames, and life is abstracted into an elaborate and heavily symbolic feature-length fantasy sequence.

So we come to The Fall, in which the storyteller is a movie stuntman from 1915 and the listener is a little immigrant girl he meets while recovering in a hospital. The story-within-the-story follows five adventurers seeking vengeance on the evil Governor Odious. The adventurers come from different historical eras and seem to move freely from era to era. Like Pasolini in The Arabian Nights, director Tarsem has sought out real locations – real palaces and deserts – and they feel more lived-in and exotic than new ones built on a computer.

Tarsem was behind The Cell, another movie in which vast and amazing imagery is used to illustrate a story that may not be quite deserving of all the effort. Similarly, The Fall’s storyteller makes an elaborate and heavily symbolic story out of his involvement in a simple love triangle.

But maybe a too-elaborate story would just get in the way; The Fall is more about storytelling and symbols. We don’t see the storyteller’s story so much as we see how the little girl sees it; when the stuntman tells her about Indians, wigwams, and squaws, the girl has never seen American Indians, so she pictures a Hindu in a turban. When he tells her things she doesn’t like, she talks him into changing them. We back up, revise, review. Will the storyteller exaggerate his woes or will he seek catharsis? And all the while we’re watching bizarre and fanciful landscapes shot in 28 countries, including a bottomless Escher-esque stairwell . . .

- The Friday & Saturday Night Critic


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