I found out about this movie because people in the LJ film_stills community are obsessed with it and there have been
three four! different entries for it since I joined. I was like huh, that looks interesting, Tarsem Singh’s movies are always really visual — HOLY SHIT LEE PACE IS IN IT. *add to queue, move to top*
Apparently, this was a “vanity project”: When Singh couldn’t get a studio to back it, he said “eff it” and made it with his own money. And who knew music video direction paid so well, because this movie does NOT look like it was made cheap. It was filmed in 20 different countries, for one thing. I just wish more people had seen it, because Lee Pace was amazing in it, and Catinca Untaru gave what is probably the finest performance by any child actor I’ve ever seen.
I don’t even know if “performance” is the right word, because I’m not sure she was really “acting” in the sense most people use the word. For one thing, she’s one of the most adorable little girls I’ve ever seen, but I think if she was “acting” that adorably, it would be saccharine and grating in very short order. From what I’ve read about the movie, her lines were very loosely scripted, and Singh just let her say whatever popped into her head, which is probably why the interaction between her and Lee Pace is so natural. Also, a lot of their scenes are of her sitting on his hospital bed with the curtains pulled around them, and apparently Singh filmed those scenes through a small hole in the curtain, so it would seem realer to her. And they even pulled that trick where she never saw Pace unless he was in bed or in a wheelchair, so she really thought he couldn’t walk. (Damn, that’s actually pretty manipulative.)
Critics seem really divided over it, they either loved it (Ebert gave it 4 out of 4), or hated it. The ones that hated it all had pretty much the same complaint: that the story-within-the-story was undeveloped and just an excuse to throw a lot of lush location shots and weird costumes together. But I think they’re missing the point, as snotty as that sounds. We’re never asked to believe this is some alternate version of reality, as in movies like The Princess Bride. The reality is always Roy and Alexandria in the hospital. He’s telling a story he’s making up as he goes to an imaginative little girl. It’s outlandish to think Singh would have set a tale in India, with a “Spanish governor” antagonist, and protagonists who are Italian, English, and Indian, and a women who goes from being a princess to a nun and back again, on accident. There are inconsistancies because Roy forgets from one day to the next what he’s said; characters change because Alexandria wants them to be different. (One of the subtle charms of the movie is the momentarily confused look all the characters get when something changes.) What we see is what she imagines: When Roy says one of the characters is an “Indian”, he clearly means Native American, because he mentions “squaws” and “wigwams”. But the Indians Alexandria knows are people from the Asian subcontinent, so we see a bearded man in a turban.
As beautiful as the story-within-the-story is, my favorite parts are the reality of Roy and Alexandria in the hospital. Both of them give truly magical performances, and they’re wonderful together. I watched it three times over the weekend; I had to send it back to Netflix today, but I’m definately going to be buying it.