18
Sep 09

My Ten Favourite Films Of 2008: 6: The Fall

Do You See + FTPost a comment • 180 views

I am a sucker for films about films. The Fall is a film about an injured silent movie stuntman trying to commit suicide. It is a ridiculously opulent film, seemingly pieced together from oblique advertising shots and somewhat portentous in tone. But it is also a film about innocence, storytelling and death. It plays the reverse Scheherazade trick – our hero delays his own suicide to finish his story. That his story is quite this dumb, or indeed that it ever has to involve swimming elephants doesn’t really matter. Tarseem Singh, in making this somewhat idiocyncratic piece of fluff, accidentally makes the ur-Gilliam film. It is Time Bandits, The Fisher King, Tideland and especially Baron Munchausen rolled into one. And its nice to know there is someone else who shares some of Gilliam’s strange never say die attitude towards getting what he wants on film. Even if what they want is quite silly.

The swimming elephants are the key to The Fall. Much is said about practical effects vs CGI and there is a whole load of rubbish about it. But there is something about knowing, when you are watching, a few swimming elephants that this was actually done and not only that done for no real discernible plot reason beyond the fact that he could. Tarseem self financed this film, in as much as he would film a big bucks commercial for someone and then rush his actors out to whichever fancy locale he was in and shoehorn it into the film. This works simply because the central conceit of the stuntman telling a small girl a story means the story can be as outlandish as possible. Outlandish and emotionally suspect, since the point of the story is to bribe the kid to get him the drugs he can commit suicide with. Lee Pace is excellent as the stuntman, happily displaying the melancholia which made him so good in Pushing Daisies. But the films secret weapon (apart from the swimming elephants) is Catinca Untaru, who plays the nine year old. She is possibly the worst child actress I have ever seen, which of course makes her the best. Apparently she barely speaks English and her lines were mainly taught to her phonetically. In a film of strangeness she is the strangest thing, and yet such a compelling lead that the rest of the excesses become natural.

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