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The Fall Reviews

Commercial and music-video director Tarsem Singh's second feature – he made his debut with the thriller THE CELL (2000) – is a tale-within-a-tale that glides between a hospital in 1915 Los Angeles and a surreal, fairy tale world of exotic adventure inspired by the Bulgarian film Yo Ho Ho. Five-year-old Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), her collarbone and left arm awkwardly splinted, is recovering from the tumble she took while picking oranges with her mother and sister – they fled their Eastern European homeland after political unrest claimed her father and their home. Stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) broke his back while filming a Western; his girlfriend (Justine Waddell) broke his heart when she threw him over for movie star Sinclair (Daniel Caltagirone). Outgoing and perpetually restless, Alexandria befriends the despondent Walker, who tells her an epic tale cobbled together from movie cliches and his own shattered dreams, periodically adjusted to suit Alexandria's firmly stated criticisms – she may not speak English fluently, but she knows when a plot point is stupid. After some false starts, it settles into the story of a motley and colorful crew -- the Black Bandit (Pace), a dreadlocked mystic (Julian Bleach) who emerges from a blasted tree, an Indian prince (Jeetu Verma), a former slave (Marcus Wesley), an Italian explosives expert (Robin Smith) and Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), who travels with a wise, talking monkey named Wallace – who band together to seek revenge on the man who has wronged each of them: Governor Odious (also Caltagirone). Along the way, they're joined by a princess (also Waddell) and the Bandit's long lost daughter (also Untaru). But Walker has an ulterior motive in captivating Alexandria, and her devotion to both the story and the storyteller ultimately endangers her life. Although the film revolves around a child, it's not a children's movie: A cruel and bitter undertone runs through the fanciful adventures, and Walker's depression is no mere plot contrivance to be cured by Alexandria's childish enthusiasm. Singh's visual sense is stunning, but he's also attuned to the darker corners of children's imaginations. It's ultimately clear that we're seeing Alexandria's version of the story, not Walker's, and that she brings more to it than simply "casting" her friends and acquaintances as his characters -- young though she is, Alexandria knows plenty about death and despair.