Piecing together the various narratives of Philip Hoffman’s brilliant All Fall Down, his first feature-length work after innumerable magnificent shorts, is one of the most invigorating and rewarding pleasures you’re likely to have in a cinema this year. Merging a personal essay with a regional history, All Fall Down is constructed from artifacts, beginning obliquely with scratched, black-and-white aerial footage of southern Ontario and an agitated man describing the deterioration of his health on the soundtrack.
The voice belongs to writer George Lachlan Brown, whose life took an unforeseen and tragic course when he was in his thirties. Seen only in home-movie footage and heard on countless phone messages that grow increasingly aggravated and anxious, Brown resorts to living in shelters (he has health, economic and immigration problems) after losing his car. An outsider desperate for any attention and unable to deal with the situation in which he finds himself, Brown struggles to find equilibrium while his imagination turns to wild conspiracy theories. Developing alongside this tale is an investigation of a genuine regional historical figure, who we discover to be hardly what she seems. These two storylines are juxtaposed with Hoffman’s serio-comic use of footage from a historical docudrama that he made but was never properly paid for. (A running tally counts the value of the footage until Hoffman uses enough to balance the fee he expected for the project.)
All Fall Down smartly references Wallace Stevens’s classic modernist poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” which analyzes how different perspectives can seem utterly irreconcilable yet completely logical depending on the context. As Brown’s entreaties to his unnamed former wife grow more disconnected and outrageous, we start questioning how much we actually know about people – and what constitutes a personality. Is the real George Lachlan Brown the person we hear on the voicemails, the father playing with his daughter in the home movies or someone else entirely? Hoffman’s own links to Brown are intimate and complex.
What emerges is a film that is at once mysterious, visually and aurally stunning, heart-rending and intellectually rigorous. —tiff.net
Wavelengths Preview – Part Two, + Future Projections, Etc.