The Fall

Personal interpretation plays a huge part in the dissection of “The Fall.” This is not a picture to accept at face value; it’s a layered, multi-dimensional fairy tale, splattered with enough ostentation to make a 19-year-old art school student blush. It’s bold, brave, and baffling. It’s also completely intolerable.

Stuck in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s, stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) is left without the use of his legs after an accident, finding his livelihood and personal life torn away during recovery. There he befriends Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a five-year-old Romanian girl with a broken arm and vivid imagination. To help ease his pain, Roy beguiles the young girl with fantastical stories of bandits and revenge, gently gaining Alexandria’s trust and using her youthful naivete to help him end his own life.

Shot over the course of three years in 20 countries, “The Fall” is a visual spectacle intended to bathe the eyes in abstract fragments of imagination. The director is Tarsem, who pulled the exact same stunt eight years ago with the lackluster serial killer lullaby, “The Cell.” Tarsem is widely hailed as a photographic authority, and if there’s anything to praise about this muddled film it’s his ceaseless hunger for spectacle. The filmmaker desires the fantasy sections of the movie to invoke enduring awe; to stun the viewer with exhausting examples of screen symmetry, exotic locations, and fairy tale extremity. To that end, it’s a successful movie.

As a living, breathing creation, “Fall” is dead on arrival.

Unlike the “Cell,” which was a purposefully icy, procedural undertaking, “Fall” is hoping to engage the heart, focusing on the relationship between Alexandria and Roy. Their interaction is the core of the film, but the acting leaves a lot to be desired. Both actors are committed to Tarsem’s flights of fancy, but too often the filmmaker leaves the performers alone to bounce off each other naturally. I’m a big supporter of instinctual child behavior on film, but watching Untaru coached by the director is aggravating and exhausting; Pace is often repeating his dialogue ad nauseam to get the girl to respond appropriately to the scene. It’s a major detriment to the emotional peak of the material, since Tarsem uses the friendship as a foundation for every extraordinary moment that follows. Untaru is certainly adorable, but having to fight to understand what’s she’s saying or watching blatant off-camera manipulation to get her worked up takes the dramatic investment right out of the picture.

The rest of “Fall” is a pageant of exaggerated costuming by Eiko Ishoika and flamboyant set-pieces of violence and metaphoric grandeur, as Roy embellishes his tales with his own pain. If Matthew Barney and Alejandro Jodorowsky were in change of filming a Gay Pride parade, it would be similar to what “Fall” has to offer visually. It’s easy to be in awe of what Tarsem has achieved with his painstaking filming process, it just isn’t fascinating; previous attempts to marry heart and wild optical gumption (such as Terry Gilliam’s “Adventures of Baron Munchausen”) have been much more appetizing than the bloodless display of directorial ego present here.

Rating: D