“The fall” – (117 minutes, India/USA, 2006 – rated R)
In a Los Angeles hospital of the 1920s, a 5 year old Romanian girl named Alexandria (Cantinca Untaru) is recovering from a broken arm she suffered picking up oranges with her migrant workers parents. Relieving the monotony of long days in this adult world is her accidental meeting of another patient, Roy Walker (Lee Pace), a young movie stuntman.
Roy is bedridden after performing a stunt he intended to impress the film’s female lead. The opening sequence of “the fall“, a gorgeous black and white montage using Beethoven’s 7th symphony, reveals what happened after Roy plunged off a railroad bridge on horseback into the river below, killing his horse and wrenching his back.
As it turns out, Roy is not only just as bored as Alexandria, he is contemplating suicide, the hopeless romantic…
Very soon, Alexandria keeps coming back to listen to Roy’s lavish tales of adventurers seeking revenge against the monstrous Spanish governor Odious. Meanwhile, Roy’s ultimate goal is to get Alexandria to fetch him morphine pills and take a dirt nap. Little does he realize that Alexandria is helping him find his way back to the living.
The story of “the fall” is very simple, based on a 1981 Hungarian film entitled “Yo Ho Ho“. Simplicity is often enough the best, and in this case provides a strong foundation for the film’s stunning visuals.
Let’s begin with Alexandria’s “discovery” of a key hole as camera obscura, projecting the outside world upside down on the wall next to her.
From then on, as Roy spins his yarn, hilariously changing details on the fly at the little girl’s urging (protagonists changing accents in mid-sentence), and the real-world settings of this adventure-fantasy remind us of the wonders our planet held when we were children.
The hours poring over an Atlas, copies of National Geographic, the mind following tributaries into rivers into oceans, pondering strange names of foreign places, the mostly forgotten sense of wonder captured by Ken Jennings in his book “maphead“.
It is a work of love, from a director with both a very strong sense of aesthetic and a wide, deep range of cultural references.
For me, “the fall” is the polar opposite of James Cameron’s “Avatar“. While I recognize Cameron’s technological achievement, it left me feeling as though I had just watched an animated screen saver for 2 ½ hours.
“The fall” reminded me of this quote, which illustrates the beauty of this world we live on:
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
— Neil Armstrong
Roger Ebert found the film magnificent, and I think Terry Gilliam and Andrei Tarkovsky would agree. “The fall” gets five jellybeans.