by HELEN GEIB
The Fall is set in a hospital in Los Angeles circa 1920 and follows two patients at the hospital, a young man in his early twenties named Roy and a little girl about five years old named Alexandria. The pair strikes up a friendship when Alexandria asks Roy to tell her a story and he responds by spinning her a tall tale. The story is dramatized as a story within the story through the lens of the child’s imagination, starring Roy as the Blue Bandit and featuring people they know from the hospital or their outside lives in the supporting cast. As the story continues, becoming more and more a mirror of Roy’s life, Alexandria and Roy’s friendship deepens. By the end, they are, each of them, both actors in the story and its storytellers.
Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) immigrated to America from Russia with her mother and siblings and the family works together as farm laborers picking oranges. Alexandria is in the hospital recuperating from a broken arm, sustained when she fell from one of the trees. She carries a lingering sadness over her father’s death (the audience is led to infer that he was murdered during a pogrom), but is sustained by naturally buoyant good spirits and a talent for friendship.
Roy (Lee Pace) was working as a stuntman to impress the actress who had recently turned her attentions from him to her leading man when a jump from a bridge left him a paraplegic. When Alexandria finds him, he is despairing and suicidal. At first, his motive for acquiescing to her repeated requests to continue the story is an attempt to win her confidence to persuade her to steal painkillers for him, or perhaps to bribe her with the next chapter to the same end. However, as the story continues it becomes his lifeline. He finds catharsis in the storytelling and an attachment to life in his fondness for Alexandria.
The film is a valentine to the magic of early films. The story is a serial, complete with cliffhanger chapter endings, narrow escapes, melodramatic situations, and improbable action sequences. It is also an epic spectacle of exotic locations and costuming and characters that are the product of wild flights of imagination.
And the story is truly spectacular in its visuals. All of the many astonishing locations are real places, not sets or computer generated images. And not just the beautiful and varied landscapes, but the monuments and castles and even cities, in all their seemingly endless variety of design and construction and color. Yet for all its stunning imagery, the film’s greater achievement is that the visuals never overwhelm the characters. The story within the story lives at the service of the film’s touching tale of friendship and rediscovered hope.
Note: The Fall‘s R rating is completely unwarranted. While a short nightmare sequence and a few of the images make it unsuitable for small children, the film is unquestionably appropriate for teenagers and I would recommend it for older children with less hesitation than I would recommend the PG rated The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. The rating is particularly unfortunate as there is much in the story to commend it to family viewing.
Other new releases this week: Baby Mama, Forbidden Kingdom