Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Fall (2006)

Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Untara, Justine Waddell, Robin Smith, Leo Bill, Jeetu Verma, Marcus Wesley

Directed by: Tarsem Singh

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Lee Pace and Cantinca Untara in The Fall

Every so often, a film comes along that you can't help falling in love with. For me, these films are usually directed by Tim Burton. The Fall, however, tumbles fresh from the unique, whimsical imagination of Indian director Tarsem Singh.

The Fall is set once upon a time in silent movie era Hollywood, in a hospital where five-year-old Eastern European gypsy girl Alexandria (Catinca Untara) is recovering after breaking her arm while out picking oranges. Also suffering the after effects of a fall is suicidal stuntman Roy (Lee Pace, the piemaker from Pushing Daisies), who's lost his girl to a movie star and doesn't see the point of living any more.

When Alexandria strays into his ward one day, Roy starts telling her a magical story about a group of bandits who embark on a fantastical adventure to wreak revenge on their arch enemy, Governor Odious.

Distilled through Alexandria's eager imagination, we see this story come alive, an utterly gorgeous epic that takes our glamorous band of heroines from the Moorish palaces of Spain to the Pyramids and Great Wall of China, through vast tracts of orange deserts and pure, blue-green seas, before arriving in a picture-perfect India straight from the golden days of the Maharajahs.

True. Alexandria doesn't always get it right: through her eyes, Roy's Native American Indian, who lives in a tepee with his squaw, becomes a turban-wearing Sikh prince, while the naturalist Charles Darwin (who, bizarrely, is another of our bandits) strikes a flamboyant figure in a vivid, butterfly-patterned fur coat over a Clockwork Orange style outfit.

So far so charming and whimsical – but don't expect to choke on sugary sentiment. Because Roy isn't telling Alexandria his story for fun: he is, in effect, grooming her so she'll fetch him some morphine from the hospital's dispensary, so he can finish the self-destructive job he started.

And as his depression deepens, so his tale becomes increasingly bitter and perilous, fraught with death and disaster. Can the heart of a sweet, caring little girl save both our fictional heroes and their narrator? Don't be so sure you can answer that question until you see the film.

And see the film you must, because this is one of the most beautiful, engaging, heart-warming, affectionate, moving and gloriously vivid films you'll see. Filmed across twenty-six countries, the cinematography is simply jaw dropping, lavish, eccentrically styled costumes and sets filmed against some of the most spectacular backdrops this planet has to offer. As for the performances, well, I've never been a fan of child actors, but little Cantinca Untaru really stole my heart: so natural and unaffected she seemed at times to be improvising, she's an absolute joy to watch. And Lee Pace proves that there's definitely going to be life beyond the Piehole, with a charismatic performance as the despairing Roy.

Yup, I fell for The Fall in a big way – it's delightful, charming and beautiful without once cloying with sentiment or treating its audience like children, and it may just break your heart. Like Big Fish, Don Juan DeMarco or Pan's Labyrinth, The Fall deftly weaves a magical fairy tale web in which sublime fantasy and the lonely, bitter truths of the real world become inextricably entangled. So let yourself get caught up in The Fall, and you're in for a magical, tragical, fantastical adventure you'll never want to end.

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