Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Imaginative Beauty

Long before cinema and literature existed, folk stories and myths were the common form of entertainment. Such stories involved the story teller holding the audience’s attention by mysterious tales of adventure, romance and even battle of good vs evil. The story teller would describe the events in good detail but once his/her words were uttered, the audience would use their imagination to turn the words into images and store them in their mind. From that point on, they would replay the images in their head and as a result, their thoughts would expand. They would question things around them and even long for some travel to far away lands.

Tarsem’s beautiful second feature, The Fall, taps into this age old charm of story telling and crafts a mesmerizing world of adventure. Tarsem’s first feature, The Cell, featured some stunning visuals but unfortunately, the story was a bit of a let-down. This time around, he has found a framework which perfectly accommodates the beautiful visuals.

Shot around the world over multiple years, the film is a story within a story. The outer layer involves a hospital patient narrating a myth to a young girl and the images we see are through the eyes of the young girl. The first hour has a playful tone but in the last 40 minutes, the story takes a dark turn. This is because the narrator is contemplating suicide and prefers to spin nothing but negativity. But since the young girl wants a happy ending, the narrator finds himself struggling to keep his demons in check.

In a way, stories (both novel and cinematic ones) take the personality of its creator. If a creator is in a certain frame of mind, those thoughts and feelings make their way into their work. The Fall shows how the narrator’s story is altered by events around him. Audiences also judge a work through a subjective lens via their conscious and subconscious ideas. And in the film, the young girl also perceives the story through her experiences.

The film is produced by Tarsem and it is easy to see why he funded it himself. No Hollywood studio would ever permit such a film to be made and allow a director to have such free reign over the material. In a way, I am glad that he produced the film himself because The Fall is easily one of the most beautiful films to be made in the last few years. In many cases, a single frame of the movie contains more beauty and imagination than entire Hollywood studio films. It is unfortunate that this film was not released widely in theatres as it deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Rating: 10/10


Pacze Moj said...

A 10, wow.

Time to watch this one, I think. Not sure why I passed it by.

Sachin said...

let me know what you think. I might be in a minority that liked this as it got pretty bad reviews overall. I was bowled over by the loose film structure which left plenty of room to pack in some amazing shots and even tailor the story based on the narrator's moods.

nitesh said...

The movie is beautiful- From the opening black&white striking shots. To the cute little girl. Beside I loved the way Indian architecture is used in the film. More than the story, I found the way the story was “narrated” and elements were added or removed. Like how the little girl didn't like the voice of the character and new elements were added. I enjoyed the film, especially the gestures of the small little girl. It made the whole film feel like listening to a bed-time story, and being an important participant of the narration. Definitely a must-watch. I wonder why the film got bad reviews and never did well.

Sachin said...

Hi Nitesh,

I am glad you liked it as well. Yeah it was like a bed-time story and that is what made it so much fun. And even I was quite happy to see a director use the Indian visuals in a beautiful way. I have been to some of the locations in Rajasthan but that was a loooong time ago. And Tarsem and his crew did a great job to show everything in a nice light, meaning they didn't touch anything up via computers regarding the locations.

I am not sure why it didn't do so well. Although here is a disgusting review. what baffles me is that in another review as well someone accused Tarsem of being self-indulgent. Huh? If that is the case, then why do they not accuse other directors of the same? For example, should they not accuse some directors who insist on long takes which serve no purpose? There isn't any movie which features some self-indulgence by a director.

Quite a few reviews said that even though the movie contains many beautiful images, the reviewer felt something was missing. This I think points to a subjective nature of the reviewers. I never once felt bored or thought the movie lacked something.

The funny thing is I doubt if the same reviewers were subjected to Spider Man 3 or Pirates 3 or even Shrek 3, they would have the same hostile remarks. I think movies like Shrek have no connection to reality and are packed with over-smart dialogues & computer generated images. There is no room to breathe. But I felt The Fall showed signs of life because it featured real sights occupied by imaginary characters. It encouraged me to imagine atleast.

At the end of the day, it is about different people's opinions. The difference is that some professional critics often mistake their opinions as facts and try to believe that their word is the final authority.

It is a shame that a film like The Fall is not shown in multiplexes but junk plays week in, week out. I suppose what I perceive as junk is other's treasure :)

nitesh said...

Quite true, the web is full of disgusting review on the film. Most of them are complaining of thin plot-line and, as you rightly mentioned, the self-indulgence. But I guess people did not see the bigger picture. The film is a beautiful bedtime story. Not to rich in characterization per se, but I enjoyed the manner in which the narrative was laid. Sadly, most critics seemed to have bypassed this too. I wish I could see this movie in the Multiplex where it rightly belongs, because watching it on the laptop doesn’t do justice to the film. I think Roger Ebert had a positive review of the film.

Sachin said...

Yeah Roger Ebert has a positive review. He had liked The Cell as well. This last paragraph from that review is quite nice:

Tarsem is an Indian, like M. Night Shyamalan of "The Sixth Sense," and comes from a culture where ancient imagery and modern technology live side by side. In the 1970s, Pauline Kael wrote that the most interesting directors were Altman, Scorsese and Coppola because they were Catholics whose imaginations were enriched by the church of pre-Vatican II, while most other Americans were growing up on Eisenhower's bland platitudes. Now our whole culture has been tamed by marketing and branding, and mass entertainment has been dumbed down. Is it possible that the next infusion of creativity will come from cultures like India, still rich in imagination, not yet locked into malls?

So I see The Fall as full of imagination meant to soar whereas most other Hollywood films which are shown in malls (via multiplexes) are canned products, cookie cutter films really with no imagination. I have a feeling this has something to do with the negative reviews as well because they are being judged from the perspective of canned mall films which are meant to make the user feel good. Although I end up leaving with an awful feeling from watching most of them. Same goes for Bollywood as well. Singh is Kinng was awful but I found that when it played at TIFF, it got some decent reviews with people talking about the over the top humour. Huh...