It's always nice when a movie surprises you, and The Fall has done that twice. I first became aware of it maybe four to five years after its initial release, while watching a compilation of clips from movies considered noteworthy for their cinematography. I had some frame of reference for every movie in the montage except for one, a colorfully bold epic with an exotic flavor. I discovered that this movie was Tarsem Singh's The Fall, which had struggled to find an audience despite earning raves from a handful critics, including Roger Ebert. the more I learned about it (admittedly, very little), however, the less interested I became in watching it. I tend to have little patience for movies that only value visual spectacle (Avatar, Blade Runner, Kon-Tiki, etc.), and I presumed that The Fall, in its eerie vacuum of mainstream acknowledgement, may have neglected developing a coherent narrative with interesting characters. Further, none of Tarsem's subsequent movies have seemed remotely interesting, and the one that I have seen, the 2012 Snow White reboot Mirror, Mirror, was awful. Although I try to avoid going to movies skeptically, I was at least leery of how The Fall might play out; it's final surprise for me is that it's a singular work of creativity from script-to-screen and powerfully assimilates a child's sense of wonder into an exploration of adult emotions on an epic scale.
Young Catinca Untaru gives a completely disarming and unaffected performance (in her only film role to-date) as Alexandria, an immigrant girl healing from an arm injury in a Los Angeles hospital in 1915. Another patient, Roy (Lee Pace), a stunt man reeling from a career-ending accident, entertains her with an elaborate fantasy story that takes on more meaning to each of them than he ever intended. Ugh, right? It sounds precious and sentimental, but Untaru is so natural and endearing that she firmly anchors this ambitious mix of fantasy and pathos in a genuine emotionalism that never feels contrived. Tarsem follows through on his amazing (and, a few times, utterly breathtaking) visual realizations with a wonderful shift in narrative dynamics, as Roy's story is filtered through Alexandria's imagination. His cynical purpose behind the story, and his deep post-traumatic depression, are twisted by his rapt audience of one into a hopeful adventure that gives no quarter for self-pity. Her belief co-opts and ultimately assumes control of his own story. Tarsem skillfully integrates faces, objects and patterns from Alexandria's real world into her fictional visions, and reveals them with total confidence to stunning results (how cinematographer Colin Watkinson only has this one feature credit to-date is bewildering). Although I would usually expect to reject emotional appeals like those in The Fall's climax as cheaply manipulative, Tarsem's careful weaving of every element throughout the film into a holistic vision of guileless optimism was deeply and masterfully effective.
The Fall was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Josh Haysom, who can be found on Flickchart under the username Quirky. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #3712 (55%, out of 8228 movies) and #45 out of 62 movies in the magical realism genre. On my chart, The Fall ranked at #198/3743 (95%), where it's my 6th favorite magical realism movie — a genre I don't typically like — out of 53.