Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Fall

Is beauty a valid purpose in and of itself? If someone makes a film that's spectacularly, vividly realized, does it really matter if the story itself is made up as they went along, designed solely to connect the stunning scenery, shocking image composition, and vivid colors? If every frame is a work of art, does anything else matter?

Depending on how you answer, you'll know whether or not you'll like The Fall.

To say this is a pretty movie doesn't give it justice. It's absolutely stunning, a visual tour de force. It's about a little girl, played by Catinca Untaru, in the hospital for a broken arm, when she meets former stuntman and current paraplegic played by Lee Pace. In order to con her into getting him drugs, he invents an elaborate fantasy tale, which we view through her imagination. It's not an extremely coherent fantasy tale, as though it were filmed over several years in a multitude of locations, and the frame narrative was designed to compensate.

This isn't to say that the frame narrative doesn't have some power in the end, often due to the performance of Untaru, whose performance is filled with genuine emotion and power. Much has been made of the gimmicky way she was filmed - convincing her that Lee was actually paralyzed, filming her with a minimum of interference from the crew - but it clearly worked. She manages to keep the threadbare plot compelling, all on her own.

But honestly, no matter how good the girl is, she's not why you want to see this movie. The story isn't why you want to see it either. It's not really consistent, the characters apart from the girl and Pace's character aren't really developed or paid much attention to, and the whole thing is kind of silly. I suppose that's fair though, half of the story is created to amuse a little girl.

And all of that is completely irrelevant.

See, you don't watch this movie because of the story. You don't watch it because of the acting. You watch it for one reason, and one reason alone, it's visually amazing. From the very first frames you know that you're not going to look away again until the end. It opens with a slow motion scene on a train bridge, as someone is rescued from a river. This scene doesn't appear to make much sense initially - it ties in later - but it's amazingly beautiful.

And the movie goes on like this, each scene is stunning, each location used for full effect. It's not a movie so much as it's a moving canvas, displaying an evolving work of art at 24 frames per second. The story gains power simply because the imagery convinces you it has to be good.

If you aren't sold by the visuals, you're not going to like it. But if you aren't sold by the visuals, you should probably consult either an optometrist or a neurologist. I'm not going to pretend that it's the greatest movie ever made, it plainly isn't. That's City of God. But it is a testament to the power of great visuals. Everyone who makes ugly movies, everyone who limits themselves to ugly shots or simple framing because that's more "pure" cinema, they should be forced to watch this. And if they still don't get it, be forced to watch it again and again until they do. This is a better movie because it looks good. All movies are better if they're good looking. The greatest movies are both good looking and have a great story to back it up. Maybe this one isn't one of the greatest movies, but it's so stunning that you want to watch it anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, great writeup!

    One other thing that doesn't sell the movie: The title... what on earth would make you want to watch a movie called "The Fall"?