A woman (Martina Gedeck) finds herself cut off from all human contact when an invisible, unyielding wall suddenly surrounds the countryside. Accompanied by her loyal dog Lynx, she becomes immersed in a world untouched by civilsation and ruled by the laws of nature.
GERMAN FILM FESTIVAL: 'I must write if I am not to lose my reason," declares the anonymous narrator alone amidst Julian Polsler’s The Wall, and that declaration of written dedication in a visual work sums up the strange, and sometimes intriguing, currents that flow through this story of a woman whose entire life is changed by an inexplicable event. The movie, which features a deeply felt central performance from the gifted German actor Martina Gedeck (The Baader Meinhof Complex), maintains an uneasy balance between the strength of the literary source and the needs of the cinematic translation. Like its central character, it sometimes struggles to make sense of its situation.
Polsler too often resorts to his famous source
Gedeck’s unnamed protagonist arrives in a picturesque mountain valley for a weekend away with a married couple. When they go out to dinner in a nearby village and she stays in, they never return, and the next morning walking along a mountain path she discovers an invisible and unbreakable barrier blocking her way. The valley is, as far as she can tell, cut off from the outside world, and the few people she can see on the other side are literally frozen in place. It is as of the world has ended but this one person has had her sentence commuted to life in solitary confinement.
The mechanics of this inexplicable event are handled thoughtfully but without vigour. Gedeck gets to do a touch of mime work, defining the unseen wall with her hands, and later she attempts to drive a car through it (the front end simply crumples on impact). It is a science-fiction plot with a muted dramatic response, as the woman goes through various psychological stages before falling into a routine of sorts. The couple’s dog, Lynx, becomes her companion; she hunts deer with a rifle, plants potatoes and begins a journal that supplies her sombre narration.
The film is framed as flashbacks from an unknown point in her stay, where loneliness and deprivation are starting to bite, and that structure takes any suspense or intrigue away from her life. 'I wasn’t young enough to think seriously about suicide," she notes, as procedure and repetition take hold. The stripped down narrative does allow for the metaphorical elements to shine through, and it’s easy to interpret The Wall as a study of extreme alienation, or a gender-based work examining female life without masculine influence or energy.
But Polsler, an Austrian director with a television background, too often resorts to his famous source, Marlen Haushofer’s acclaimed 1963 novel of the same title, for words to describe what he should be concentrating on revealing visually. It’s not as if Martine Gedeck would fail to convey much of what you need to know with her performance. Through body language and searching close-ups she shows how an unimaginable event can take a person beyond what they thought was capable, warping their being and magnifying what was once dormant and unnoticed. But there’s a distance that intimacy never quite bridges. The valley, photographed in its natural magnificence, provides a vivid backdrop, but the tiny figure surviving within doesn’t always come into focus.