Every so often, usually when I'm questioning my own commitment to the film business - right now it's just after having seen a marathon of "Sex and the City," "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," "Kung Fu Panda," and "Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Crystal Skull," a film comes serendipitously along that makes everything all right again. This time it's Tarsem Singh's "The Fall." Tarsem, who goes by his first name only, has made a career of directing music videos and commercials. His only film before "The Fall" was 2000's "The Cell."
When I tell you what the film is about you'll no doubt take this website off of your favorites list, but please - bear with me for a minute, because I swooned over Tarsem's use of color, his framing of each shot, and the inventiveness that you see only from a master who insists on going his own way, and not hauling out the tired old clichés of contemporary film.
The setting is a Los Angeles hospital in 1915; most of the beds are unoccupied, but one patient is the Hollywood stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace, who played the pianist-suitor in "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day). He has been paralyzed in an accident on the set and his girlfriend has forsaken him for the film's leading man. Another patient is Alexandria (Cantinca Untaru), an astounding 8-year-old from Romania whom I for one would give my right arm to adopt. She has a broken arm, now in a cast that's held out from her body by means of a brace. In that hand she is never without her little box; we never find out what's in it, but it gives her a little life beyond the plot of the film.
She and Roy become hospital friends; he begins telling her a fabulous story about a group of five men - himself as a warrior, a Russian explosives man, an escaped slave, an Indian, and Charles Darwin, who has a pet monkey. They must rescue a princess and kill Governor Odious who holds her. But the story is Roy's way of getting Alexandria to do something for him - to go to the dispensary and get him a bottle of pills, which she carefully spells out: M, O, R, P, H, I, N, 3.
But rather than focus the film on that action, Tarsem shows us in the most brilliant footage - shot, supposedly, in 28 countries, and I believe it - of the adventures of his group. I have never seen a film with such amazing use of slow-motion, nor the saturated color that fills every corner of the screen. Tarsem financed the film with his own money, which means he never stinted nor, obviously, stuck to a studio schedule. In fact, we're told, it took him four years to finish it, and to my mind it was worth every moment of every year. "The Fall" is one of those films that comes along once in a great while to let us know that there are fantastic film artists out there, if only we would look for them.