Imagine being trapped: spatially, temporally, psychologically – indefinitely. As far as you can tell you are completely cut off from all civilisations. There is no way out. No matter how expansive the space, how beautiful the landscape, how unlimited the resources, the agony of facing the future alone is terrifying. Such is the predicament facing the Woman in Austrian TV-director Julian Roman Pölsler’s debut feature, The Wall.
Flashbacks provide the explication, but the real heart of the drama rests with watching Martina Gedeck (The Baader-Meinhof Complex, The Lives of Others) wrestle with the daily demands of survival and isolation. Gedeck is a tour de force, expressing depth and variety of emotion with economy and intensity. She does this in almost complete silence, because aside from some brief interaction with other humans, Gedeck’s only co-stars are the Woman’s faithful animals, and nature itself.
The result is that most of the visuals are accompanied only by a monologue voiceover, revealing the Woman’s inner conflicts and reflections on sanity, solitude and time. This may work if you are fluent in German, but sadly can be distracting when subtitled, particularly when the voiceover provides a detailed description of what is presented on-screen. An adaptation of Marlen Haushofer’s 1968 cult novel, the film’s use of voiceover feels overtly literary in its approach, and occasionally, one wonders if certain scenes may have been stronger if left to unfold without the accompanying commentary. However, it does give the film a contemplative, monumental quality that encourages introspection: although completely different in effect, it’s reminiscent of Patrick Keiller’s Robinson films, where carefully composed shots are paired with a monologue that drifts from the banal to the poetic to the political. Keiller’s films are the complete antithesis of fast-paced commercial storytelling, deliberately slow and considered with the aim of making us stop and think. Similarly with The Wall, there is no conventional narrative here – this is a provocative, metaphorical piece, and in the main, it’s very successful.
The influence of German romantic art pervades the film, with many scenes composed of a tableau of a prelapsarian landscape, with the Woman walking into the frame, a small, solitary figure against a sublime backdrop. At one point, the Woman says ‘I think time stands still and I move around in it’, and both aesthetically and philosophically this encapsulates the spirit of the film. Captured by a number of cinematographers over many seasons, nature is presented in all its awe-inspiring beauty and cruelty, with the film dramatising the Woman’s existential and physical struggle to remain in a world indifferent to her survival, and where her only hope of success is to try to accept and find meaning in her situation.
Intriguing and mesmerising, The Wall is also demanding and unconventional. The occasionally didactic voiceover may be off-putting for some, but if you surrender to the style and premise, it’s a rich and immensely rewarding film that begs repeat viewing.
Watch the trailer: