Ari Taub’s World War II movie “The Fallen” is hard to describe, and maybe that’s why it never really hits its stride, seemingly content to simply amble on until it gets tired and just…stops. Starring a surprisingly good bunch of actors you’ve never heard of and shot for what must been a minor budget, the film follows four groups of disparate characters — a band of cowardly American quartermasters (supply men), a goofball bunch of Italian Army Regulars, a local Italian Mafioso and his bumbling henchmen, and the stout Germans holed up near the Gothic Line in the Italian mountains.
“The Fallen” opens with a non sequitur sequence that has one of the American supply men attempting to sell (presumably) stolen French wine to a local Italian gangster name Rossini. The two agree to meet again at sundown, but when the American doesn’t show up, the Italian gangster simply shrugs it off. We later see the gangsters again as they murder and pillage German troops moving up and down the Italian road. For soldiers, these guys are incredibly easy to kill. You’d think men who have been fighting for years in a World War could hold out against a fat Italian gangster and his small band of Three Stooges henchmen, but apparently not.
Where was I? Right, the Americans. Led by their boozing Sergeant, the supply men have been dispatched to the front lines, where they are to resupply their fighting counterparts. Along the way, they run across some Italian refugees, a house full of willing women, and then — well, they sort of disappear for a while. But no worries, soon we are with a small unit of Italian Regulars as they join up with their German comrades stationed near the front lines, although they themselves do not see any action unless you consider the Italian Partisans (Communists resisting the German occupation) who (literally) pop out of the woodworks to take shots at them at various intervals.
There is no “main” storyline in “The Fallen”; the film is simply about soldiers who aren’t really good at soldiering, wandering about in a war zone that feels more like Sunday strolls through Central Park . Directed by Ari Taub on what must have been a very small budget (there are no large military engagements, and even the film’s few minor skirmishes are poorly executed), “The Fallen” has a number of things going for it. The film’s best element is its languid, meandering quality, working from a script that has little interest in any type of recognizable narrative or traditional plotting. It’s anybody’s guess whose story this is; and perhaps, it’s no one’s story, and everyone’s.
An excellent decision by the filmmakers was to cast native speakers for the roles and have them speak their own native tongue rather than force feed the audience English. This gives the film a much needed boost in the reality department, especially since the film seems overly too comical sometimes for a movie that has people getting shot in the head and being blown up by tanks. The music comes and goes, including some unnecessary “jokey” music that seems to have been lifted directly from some cheesy 1970s Italian comedy.
A smart idea might have been to cut down the cast by at least half, if not more, which would also excise some of the film’s curiously many loose threads. On more than one occasion, the script simply sends characters off screen, never to be heard from again. This might explain the rushed Third Act, where the film stumbles mightily to get to the finish line. In fact, the ending is so abrupt that for a moment one almost suspects we’re watching the first day of a 3-day mini-series. Surely, there must be more. After following these characters around for 90 minutes, the film’s flippant disregard for their fates is just a tad annoying.
Nevertheless, Taub should be congratulated for making an entertaining and off-beat war film when such a thing shouldn’t be possible without an ungodly Hollywood budget and an army for a crew. Taub’s film also has a very noticeable European sensibility to many parts of it, including the sometimes grainy picture and sometimes poorly post-dubbed voice work. It might also remind viewers of Francois Truffaut’s films, in that “The Fallen” seems to have no real thrusting plot, but instead a central core that allows for tandem and multiple plots that don’t necessarily go anywhere.
Many reviewers on the Internet have grabbed onto the film as some sort of anti-war movie, but this may be a case of biased observers injecting political beliefs into a movie. If anything, “The Fallen” seems to not care about the politics behind the events of the war, just the men caught up in them. Human nature, it seems to be saying, is more important than human events, and even in the large scheme of things, it’s still the individual that matters most. Then again, maybe Ari Taub just couldn’t figure out how to make a proper film, so decided to make one about some people running around in the Italian mountains yukking it up. You decide.
Ari Taub (director) / Nick Day, Caio Ribeiro, Nicolas Shake (screenplay)
CAST: Daniel Asher …. Lt. Watts
Matthew Black …. Sgt. Hoakes
Justin Brett …. Kinross
Bob Brown …. Col. Bowen
Hans-Dieter Bruckner …. Cook
Achim Buchner …. Franz