The Wall (Die Wand)
Germany (2012) Dir. Julian Pölsler
A woman in her early forties (Martina Gedeck) goes on a trip to the Austrian alps with two friends Hugo (Karlheinz Hackl) and Luise (Ulrike Beimpold) and they loyal dog Lynx. When Luise and Hugo take a trip to a local pub, the woman stays behind with Lynx. The couple fail to return that night and when the woman awakens the next morning and goes in search of them she discovers an invisible wall has appeared cutting her off from the outside world. With only Lynx for company the woman is forced to live off the land to survive.
There is a fair chance many people seeing this film’s title will automatically envision Pink Floyd’s celebrated opus of the same name but no such luck; this film is based on the bestselling allegorical novel by Marlen Haushofer first published in 1963. An example of dystopian fiction, The Wall is said to be Haushofer bemoaning modern civilisation and chose to express this through the plight of a woman placed in a situation where going back to nature is the only way to ensure her continued existence, experiencing personal growth along the way.
Despite the early presence of Hugo and Luise, this is ultimately a one woman show for renowned German actress Martina Gedeck, who has impressed non-Teutonic audiences with her electrifying performances in such noted outings as The Lives Of Others, Atomised and The Baader-Meinhof Complex. An obvious choice perhaps for director Julian Pölsler but unquestionably an astute one as Gedeck doesn’t let him or the audience down, delivering another astounding turn to add to her already busy CV. Aside from the narration which she provides, Gedeck barely speaks in this film relying on her physical expression to relay the effects of the struggle for survival on our anonymous protagonist.
The actual story is somewhat threadbare yet quite eventful through its elliptical narrative covering a year behind this mystical blockade. With little to say yet having a story to tell, the woman writes a journal of her experience, unsure if anyone will ever read it, but with a limited supply of paper, she is force to used whatever comes to hand. This forms the basis of the voice over narration that many viewers have found a problem with; I personally found it worked well within the context and certainly broke up the monotony of the ever pervasive silence of the film. Admittedly there are a couple of occasions where she spells out what we can clearly see on screen, but for the most part it allows us to share what she is thinking as well as be kept in the loop of the time frames and other slivers of pertinent information that were exchanged in the original novel.
Our nameless heroine finds her adopted pet collection grow throughout the film, adding to the faithful dog Lynx a pregnant cow she names Bella and a cat which gives birth to white kitten she names Pearl. However it is the double act with Lynx that is one of the more rewarding aspects of the film. Superbly played by the director’s own dog, Lynx is almost comedic in his manner, providing some nuanced levity to come scenes. In one instance when the woman tries to shoot her first venison meal she can’t bring herself to pull the trigger – the look of disappointment Lynx gives her is priceless! Animals also act as metaphors for the woman’s own sense of isolation. She spots a white crow that has been ostracised by its black murder and likens herself to the white crow, shut out by the rest of civilisation.
Whatever this mysterious wall is it seems to have a strange effect on the people and things on the outside. After first discovering it, the woman sees an elderly couple in the front porch of the home – she is sitting on the steps and he is washing his hand under a tap. The woman not only discovers that they are separated by the wall and no sound can pass through but the couple are frozen in these positions. Every day after, the woman sees them in situ, the water still running over the old man’s hands. Could this be that the wall is protecting the woman from something?
Answers, explanations and a resolution are not to be found in tale like this so one is forced to simply indulge Haushofer’s premise without question and accept the situation just as the woman has accepted her fate. Denied all the mod cons she is used to the woman starts again from zero, and through hard grafting and elbow grease she is able to create and sustain a ready food supply from the natural resources around her. Haushofer may have wanted to show that it is still possible to live a fruitful life by going back to basics but with no-one to talk to or share it with, is there really a point?
It’s certainly a thought provoking psychological meditation and while the book may offer more in the way of backstory of our unidentified lead and delve deeper into her thoughts, Julian Pölsler’s adaptation seems to have successfully captured the flavour of Haushofer’s work. Of course he should thank the inestimable Martina Gedeck for her committed and mesmerising performance, single-handedly carrying the emotional and dramatic burden on her shoulders. Credit also to Markus Fraunholz and the camera crew for some stunning photography of the Salzkammergut region of the Austrian Alps, the bright green vistas adding an ironic layer of melancholy to the already austere atmosphere.
Perhaps too low key and dour for some, The Wall provides some food for thought for those film fans who like to immerse themselves in the world presented to them on the screen with some added cerebral and emotional nourishment.