Even though the focus of this ravishing film is synonymous with its title, the most engaging aspect of The Fall is its examination of points of view. It’s what we see that counts. Opening in a gauzy haze, it offers vague, silent glimpses of some event taking place along a riverside involving a train, a horse and riders, a duo of swimmers, all seemingly unconnected, but later drawing together to a monochromatic conclusion that we assume spells anguish for somebody. Then up pops an overly sunlit world full of oranges near a hospital. A title reads: “Los Angeles. A Long, Long Time Ago.” From there, the film glides mysteriously through a fabled but cruel past, the vivid imagination of a soft-spoken child named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a nine-year-old Romanian, and the shared dream of cinema itself. If all this sounds a bit pretentious, don’t worry, it is-but it’s also gorgeous and compelling.
Director Tarsem Singh is most widely known for the R.E.M. video “Losing My Religion” and The Cell, the big Jennifer Lopez bomb that wasn’t Gigli. He’s also credited with an autobiographical documentary titled Style as Substance. This assertion is fitting for Tarsem (and Oscar Wilde, for that matter, who also held that life imitates art), though such heavy dependence on artifice is what often confuses critics of films like Speed Racer or Be Kind Rewind. (Spike Jonze is one of the minds behind the project, which might help you imagine the movie’s tone.) Green screen effects aside, somehow the overabundance of visual flourishes here are perfectly suited to the film’s metaphysical ruminations on nostalgia.
Tarsem works hard to constantly amaze, making something that might be considered a head film in another era. A keyhole becomes a film projector, a character opens his mouth to release a cloud of butterflies, two men traveling underwater hold onto a swimming elephant. But the whole time it explores various modes of falling and how we cope with the way down. Whether in love, asleep, or the ultimate fall, the world’s oldest story, it’s about innocent vision falling into the world.