Catinca Untaru has cemented her spot on the list of impressive child actors. Starring in Tarsem's The Fall, this young actress makes Dakota Fanning look like Gilbert Godfrey in a Uwe Boll film. To better understand the specialness of Untaru's performance, you have to first understand the specialness of The Fall.
The Fall was a dream project for director Tarsem. Famous for his commercial and music video work, the Indian filmmaker had an idea of letting a child guide the film. He decided that he needed a four-year-old for his idea to work. Years later, he was given a tape with a young Romanian girl (Untaru) and was so capitvated by her that production started immediately.
The film follows a Untaru's character, Alexandria, as she tries to occupy her time in a hospital while she recovers from a broken collarbone. During her stay, she meets a depressed silent film actor/stuntman named Roy Walker (Lee Pace) who was recently paralyzed after a stunt went bad. Recently dumped by his girlfriend, Roy wants out of life. Contained to his bed, he enlists the help of Alexandria to get the morphine he desires.
Roy tells Alexandria an epic story filled with fantasy elements and mythical heroes. Each day he tells her another section of the story. As the two bond together, he pursuades the little girl to get him some morphine from the medical center. The film cuts between the 1920s hospital and the timeless fantasy world. Alexandria's character shows up in both worlds and Untaru's performance in The Fall overall, is incredible.
"One day I got a tape of this girl at a school in Romania, in the middle of students talking. I was amazed. She was perfect. She didn't speak English. The penny dropped. She was six, but if she didn’t speak the language she would be using, the misunderstanding would buy me the two years that I needed. Because she had to seem four." (Ebert Interview with Tarsem)
"It's true. One of the treasures of the film is the sound of the dialog by Catinca Untaru. We understand every word, but she sounds as if she's inventing them as utters them." (Rober Ebert, possibly replying to what I just wrote)
Only Tarsem and Lee Pace knew that Lee Pace could walk. Hoping to capture people's real reactions to a handicapped person, the director kept the secret until shooting wrapped. When filming ended, they told everyone the truth, to mixed reactions. Some people were upset, others took it as good news. Tarsem remarked on Untaru's reactions to pace when she first met him.
They met while shooting their first scene together. To her knowledge, Pace was actually paralyzed and she was nervous because of that. That nervousness comes through in her performance. But as the film progresses, it's easy to see how much the young actress has bonded with her co-star. A lot of the dialogue was improvised and spontaneous. Tarsem claims that by the third or fourth take, Untaru would nail the scene. The director allowed flexability and freedom in his film and let the little girl craft the story.
The script was ever-changing. In the scene where Lee Pace writes M-O-R-P-H-I-N-E, Untaru mistook the actor's "E" for a "3" and they changed the story to suit that. When she read "3," Tarsem told the prop man to fill the morphine bottle all the way up. Then when Alexandria steals the pills, she only grabs three, not enough for Roy to kill himself. This flexability allowed the film to remain fluid and capture all of the special moments that only a child can create.
You can credit Tarsem for directing an amazing film. You can be in awe of the shooting locations, spanning 28 countries. You can love how the story weaves betweens worlds of the real and the fantastic. But without Untaru's performance, none of that would tie together. Untaru appears to be the glue that holds The Fall together. Quite a lot of responsibility for a six-year-old, but after watching the film, it'd be hard to argue that she didn't get the job done.
Part Two: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/36915
Moriary's Thoughts: http://www.aintitcool.com/?q=node/36407