Australia, you’re missing out: THE FALL

20 Jul

In a new semi-regular column, Ben Buckingham explores some cinematic delights that have failed to take flight in Australia.

What a wealth of cinema we now have within easy reach, the shelves overflowing with a variety of films previously unknown to Australia. Yet there are still a boatload of films waiting to overrun our hearts & minds, abandoned for reasons that can be obvious or impossible to comprehend.

Australia, You’re Missing Out is an attempt to right some of these wrongs by, at the very least, drawing attention to those which have failed to find a general release. This first instalment will address Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (2006).

Tarsem Singh is a director known for evocative imagery, clearly demonstrated in his 2000 film, The Cell, which unfortunately did not have a script to match the powerful images. Largely unheard of since then, he has recently reappeared thanks to an intriguing trailer for Immortals, soon to appear in cinemas & retread another Greek myth. Between these two films however, he self-financed an impressive cinematic work entitled The Fall, based upon an obscure and even harder to find Bulgarian film entitled Yo Ho Ho (1981). Alas, it has remained an elusive property in Australia, briefly surfacing at ACMI & then vanishing forever. It is available internationally, with a superior & essential bluray available from the UK (with whom we share Region B bluray coding).

It too had an intriguing trailer, one which promised a lot & featured the names of David Fincher & Spike Jonze, who attached themselves not as creators but as promoters in an attempt to gain the attention The Fall deserves. The trailer promised another batch of visual grandeur/wank. Surprisingly, the film was not.

​The opening scene of The Fall appears to set up a mystery. Pristine black & white images, caught in a magic twilight between stillness & motion, move in elegant balance with the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony. Slowed, fragmented images fill us with questions: the leg from a suit of armour with an arrow in it, holding firm against a torrent of water; a smoking American Indian, casual as Bogart; cowboys filled with movement & fearful intent; ropes & a steam train, with a horse pulled from the river as if some strange act of Dali-esque creation is in motion. But it isn’t really a mystery, this scene points to a different purpose than intrigue. The mind leaps at answers. We become filled with imagination as we spin little ‘what ifs’, piecing together the clues.

The ability to transform the world through the art of imagination is something which most films aspire to. The Fall does this & so much more as it keeps us alive with the movements of its legends & the dark storm of reality which powers the engines of our greatest storytellers. Fantasy & reality are inseparable, as are humour & sadness.

​Our focal point is Roy (Lee Pace), who is overflowing with passionate pain. Set in a hospital surrounded by orange groves, Roy lies broken: he fell & broke his spine. It is Los Angeles of ‘long, long ago’, in an age of silent cinema & terrifying medical apparatus. A little girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), also fell, breaking her arm while working with her immigrant parents as fruit pickers. Their paths cross & he begins to tell her stories to pass the time. The stories spring from the shadows on the wall & grow out of a name with historical resonance. Stories of heroes fighting against the evil Governor Odious, killer of brothers & stealer of women. These are men of grand stances & costumes of splendour, marking them as heroes born from the elements & ready to be legends. Their faces are picked from the denizens of the hospital & the back stories of our protagonists, be it a kindly ice delivery man or the ‘odious’ Hollywood star who stole Roy’s screen princess.

The settings are the most elaborate & stunning you will see in any film, cribbed from the four corners of the Earth. The story goes that Tarsem, unable to acquire funding, sought out jobs directing advertisements & music videos in far flung exotic places in order to fund & acquire these impressive images. The visual power of this film is staggering. The wonders of the world are harnessed to create a mythic environment which is perhaps unmatched by any film. The artifice of mega-budget, world building films such as The Lord of The Rings cannot stand up to a natural desert mountain-scape shifting with hypnotic ease into a valley of rice paddies. Just as awe begins to settle from one’s face the earth births a multitude of primitive shamans from the lush green, enveloping a poisoned elder in a swaying chorus of despair.

Yet the images never overpower the film, they blend with the story as a character of wonder.

​There is much that is unclear within The Fall, & at no point does Tarsem attempt to find a pristine path of logic. This is not a negative, but rather the essential ingredient to the films elemental power. The various elements of the world within the story are taken from the imagination of both Roy & Alexandria, as if projected onto a screen generated by the unison of storyteller & listener. Roy’s description of the Indian & his ‘squaw’ fill the mind with American images, yet the man we see is Asiatic; the complications of personal interpretations are here part of the magic. It is a communal story, one in which the viewer is also involved, never forced away by strict meaning & structure.

We plunge deep into a world of heartbreak as Roy’s wish to die & be done with his anguish begins to overpower the narrative. There is wonder in this film, such beauty & real joy, yet also great sadness. As the film moves back & forth between these states it feels honest, earned. This is a film of unusual balance, at times threatening to become too twee & cute, then oppressively art-house dour, but never falling, never failing at creating a rich tapestry of lives lived & dreamed. It does this without recourse to unearthly computerised effects or demonstrations of artifice. At the last moment, after all the flights of fantasy & old school in-camera tricks, with a nightmarish sequence of puppetry thrown in for good measure, somehow the film becomes a perfect ode to those people & animals who gave their health & vitality to the miraculous images of cinema.

The magic wonders of tangible dreams & the power to inspire, these things should never be wasted nor taken for granted. Find this film.


2 Responses to “Australia, you’re missing out: THE FALL”

  1. February 11, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    I really have a tendency to go along with pretty much
    everything that is posted inside “Australia,
    youre missing out: THE FALL | Australian Film Review”.
    Many thanks for all the actual details.Thanks for the post,Hermine


  1. MIFF 2011: THE INKEEPERS (2011) « Australian Film Review - July 24, 2011

    […] shall most likely dedicate an Australia, You’re Missing Out to him, as only one of his five films has found release in Australia. Ironically it is the one […]

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