Go and see Fell right now.
No matter how profound your pain, the world won’t pause for the sake of your grief. Kasimir Burgess’ Fell concerns a man fallen totally into a debilitating state of anguish, and his haunting obsession with the man responsible for sending him there. Grief is rarely a well-handled idea in cinema, filmmakers often falling prey to the pitfall of allowing a film to drown amidst the grim and the melancholy of its subject. Fell is the debut feature for Burgess, but the man handles his topic and characters with a remarkable delicacy that most veteran directors would covet. Fell is not a cheerful film, but it is an utterly compelling one.
Thomas (Matt Nable) and his only daughter Lara (Isabella Garwoli) are on a camping trip in a particularly serene forest when Lara steps out in front of a moving logging truck and is tragically killed. The driver, Luke (Daniel Henshall), panics and in his moment of confusion he decides to drive away rather than stop to handle the situation for which he is answerable. Thomas, mortified by the death of his daughter, hurtles into irreversible despair, retreating from his job, his wife and his home, and begins a new life of isolation in the woods near the scene of the accident. Luke, uncovered by forensics, serves five years for his lack of responsibility before returning to life, humbled but not entirely enlightened by his experience.
To reveal much more would be to impair the utterly gripping hold that Fell only relinquishes once the end credits begin to roll. The fate of both men, and their response to misfortune is Burgess’ consideration. There’s a superficial simplicity to his presentation that belies the undercurrent of complicated emotions and deep feeling. Fell suggests and prods without ever embracing overt expression. Nable’s performance perfectly compliments the sparsity of the rest of the production. Thomas is a man of few words, particularly following the death of Lara, but Nable’s face has an expressiveness that captures his disposition without ever leaning toward the histrionic. In an occupation that often champions exaggeration and decoration, Nable embraces minimalism and manages to convey his state of mind nonetheless. Henshall is equally impressive as Luke, eliciting sympathy and frustration simultaneously. Luke’s mistake should not define him but Henshall’s astute performance also suggests that it hasn’t had an appropriate degree of influence on him either.
The presence of logging in the film is a curious one. Deforestation permeates Fell, the serenity of the woods contradicted by the natural destructiveness of logging, evoking a connection to the emotional immaculacy of children as opposed to the ruinous nature of grief. The environment that Luke and Thomas interact with is deliberately calming and enticing, helping offset the complicated sorrow that Thomas feels with a sense of calm. Revenge and redemption are at the forefront of the film, and both are handled with outstanding subtlety and nuance. Fell is not only the finest Australian film to be produced in many years, but simply one of the finest films ReelGood has had the pleasure of encountering in a very long time. Burgess’ sophisticated handling of his material belies his limited feature film experience. It is a rare but wonderful film that manages to be aware enough of its own strengths to pursue every avenue perfectly. Fell is one of those films.
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