Wrapping up Peter Greenaway's earliest years as a filmmaker, The Falls is a three hour indie epic, a film about nothing and everything all at once. It's maddeningly infuriating: Concentrate on its stories for more than a few minutes and your brain turns into a pretzel. Look away, though, and you feel you're missing something.
Well, you are, and you aren't. Here's the gist of The Falls: The film is presented, almost middle-school-classroom-documentary style, as a record of an alternate past, one in which the Violent Unknown Event ("the V.U.E.") has affected some 19 million people worldwide. The V.U.E. is exactly a perfect name for what it was: A sudden occurance that affected some people at random and all at once, and has caused serious problems along with amazing new capabilities. Think of it as some kind of genetic mutation: Its sufferers have developed scales or freakish deformities (decalcification of the teeth, anyone?) or unbearable neuroses, and some have suddenly gained better eyesight, mental powers, and even immortality. If there is a running theme in the new "powers," most or all of the sufferers have gained new ability with languages and some strange kinship with birds -- which may have had something to do with the cause of the V.U.E. Not that anyone knows.
So what are "The Falls?" The Falls are 92 victims of the V.U.E., representing everyone in the master registry of V.U.E. sufferers, all of whom have last names that begin with the letters FALL. Except for husbands, wives, and children, none of the sufferers have anything to do with one another, and they're located all over the world, speaking numerous random (and made-up) languages.
Don't spend too much time trying to connect the dots. I think even Greenaway would discourage too much analysis. (Is the V.U.E. a symbol for the good and bad potentials of nuclear power? Hell, I dunno.) Everything here is nonsensical to a degree, on purpose. That's part of what the V.U.E. wrought. Why, even the names of the sufferers are random gibberish. (Bwythan Fallbutus?) Don't believe me? Here's a sample of the narration, chosen at random from the middle of the film:
"Her body reabsorbed her breasts and the tough digits of all her fingers and toes."
"When awake, she accompanied her sister in an extended dance, song, and talk marathon with the red folding chair."
"Against the whitewashed walls, the yellow door could be seen for several miles."
Okay, the last one makes sense, but you may be left wondering what a story about a woman who paints her door has to do with her V.U.E. case. The answer, of course, is nothing. Nothing at all. It is just meant to mess with your head in the worst way.
Coupled with Michael Nyman's disconcerting deranged organ grinder score, which jarringly kicks you during every interstitial title card with the name and number of each of the sufferers, The Falls is a real head-messer. Its value as cinema is, it goes without saying, iffy, but it's a perfect party movie. Put on the muted film along with your own music soundtrack and watch your guests' heads explode.
The DVD includes video pieces on this film and Vertical Features Remake, which is also included on the disc, plus paintings, archival materials, and essays about Greenaway's early work. Also available as part of Greenaway: The Early Films, which includes several of his short films.
Run time: 195 mins
Distributed by: British Film Institute
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Peter Greenaway
Producer: Peter Greenaway
Screenwriter: Peter Greenaway
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