I missed The Fall when it was originally in the cinema, but it was showing at my local arthouse cinema this weekend so I finally got the chance.
One of the film’s two central characters, Roy (Lee Pace), promises early on that his story will be an epic tale of love and revenge, and for all his comment is meant as hyperbole to capture the attention/imagination of young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), it’s a fairly accurate description of the film that follows. Though that’s perhaps underselling the complexity of the story (Love! Revenge! Betrayal! Adventure! Death! The shadow of the silent film being made in the background makes itself felt throughout) and Alexandria – one of the realest children I’ve ever seen in film, her actions and reactions are not those of the idea of a child, but rather an actual child – would probably argue that it’s a story about love and forgiveness.
An interesting aside for me was provided by the story Roy tells being loosely based on the silent film he was injured making. He bases his characters on those from the film, one of whom – we discover later – is supposed to be a Native American ‘Indian’ complete with impressive headdress. However, we know from early on that Alexandria has a little Indian elephant in her box of trinkets, given to her by one of her friends from the orange grove. So because we see the story through her eyes, there is a strange and knowing dissonance as we see an Indian warrior wearing a turban and carrying an impressive curved sword, and hear Roy talking of wigwams and squaws. Looking back on the film, this is arguably the first major indication the audience gets that Roy is not, and cannot ever be, entirely in control of the story. It is Alexandria’s story too and both it and he will eventually have to bend to her will.
The film is without doubt visually stunning; colour is used to signify the different worlds we find ourselves in during the course of the film. Black and white for the shooting of the silent film, faded and sepia tones – as though we are seeing the action unfold entirely in dappled shade and lamp light – for the hospital and vivid, heavily saturated colour for the story. It’s not exactly a magical realist film, but I’m not sure how else to describe the way the lines between fiction and reality blur and shift, in the face of Alexandria’s strength of imagination and the fragility of Roy’s mental state. The film is a fantasy in almost every sense of the word, with a truly epic scope, yet a tiny focus. Everything is ultimately about the unlikely friendship between two patients in a 1920s hospital; one full of hope and the other dominated by hopelessness.
I’m not sure that I can be remotely objective about this film, because it engaged me on an emotional level early on and never really let me go. It’s not as though I don’t often get invested with characters in cinema or even that I never cry in films, I do, I’ve come away from a lot of films heartsore and do this strange crying out of one eye thing I do when watching sad bits in films. However, this film joined the ranks of the few films that make me cry properly. Alexandria and Roy do some fairly heartfelt crying towards the end of the story and so did I, proper ‘have to take my glasses off to wipe my eyes because I can’t see’ crying. I literally cried like a little girl. I wouldn’t want you to think that this is a depressing film, far from it; I didn’t leave the cinema feeling remotely sad or heartsore. I left the cinema rather full of hope and with a serious case of the warm and fuzzies.