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The last time I finished watching a movie and started watching it all over again was … was “The Fall” really the first time I ever did that? It would not surprise me, as it is truly (and that is the word that has been used most frequently in the reviews I have seen) astonishing in so many ways. My first outburst was utter bewilderment that I had never even heard of the film before The Movieness wrote about it in her blog. Looking into production history, casting, location scouting etc. I can only say that books must be written about this film, or films about the astonishing people involved.

In terms of story, this is a melange of Terry Gilliam fantasy, Princess Bride adventure, Pan’s Labyrinth mystery and – very visibly – Baraka. The latter struck me as odd, because there are at least three images / situations that could just have been taken from Baraka, but no relationship between the two films was mentioned. Did director Tarsem just bluntly steal the locations and the folklore dances he used? Well done!

Apart from the crazily beautiful locations used, the most stunning thing about the film is the casting choice for the female lead, a supposedly 4-year old Romanian girl. The … artificial naturalness … hm… I don’t know, the way she uses English as a strange language that she hardly masters, the way dialogues involve her just not understanding what her counterpart says, and vice versa, this very open and straightforward way of talking that is unique to those who have just started to learn a foreign language and have not yet learned to hide their intentions behind barriers of word shells … loveable to the extreme! I have never been so fascinated by a child actor, ever. Because she remains natural, also in her limited understanding of what the story involves that she is told. She mixes up the Indians she is told about with the Indians that she remembers from other stories. She does not understand why the narrator is killing off characters and tries to claim the story for herself. She is as deeply involved in the story as only a person can be who has not yet learned how to shield off against pain and peril.

The script does not shy away from sending the heroes down dark places, and if any proof had been needed after the beautiful image of the masked heroes’ brother’s execution, the showdown finally asserts that this is not for the faint of heart, that the happy endings awaiting the audience are of a different nature than you would be expecting in a fantasy sword and sorcery story. This is grim stuff, and heart-breaking, but as hospitalised stuntman Roy points out upon Alexandria’s complaints: It’s MY story!

Review by Roger Ebert
And some background by Ebert, including the nice quote: “The agencies that made commercials gave me very good money and I didn’t complain about it. I put it aside like a little squirrel and at the end I ended up with a project that I wanted to do very badly and threw it all away, so now I’m penniless but as happy as a pig in poo.”

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