Ich bin ein wand!
It’s hard to know what to expect from a movie called The Wall. No, this isn’t a concert film, nor a reissue of the frightening Pink Floyd film from the ‘80s. The Wall is actually a German language film from Austria, originally titled Die Wand, based on the novel of the same name by Marlen Haushofer. The translation of the title is probably the last “obvious” thing about this drama that the viewer will find, whether or not they’ve seen the theatrical trailer (which is included as one of the few bonuses the DVD release contains).
The Wall starts out as a relaxed pastoral film focusing on the main character of Frau (Martina Gedeck) as she relaxes in a quaint cabin with a couple of loved ones and her dog Lynx. Director Julian Pölsler (who also adapted the screenplay) lingers on these beautiful, slow moments and lets his camera drink in the Austrian countryside to relax the viewer into this lethargic, peaceful normalcy. However, when Frau’s loved ones fail to arrive back at the cabin from a trip to the nearby village at a reasonable time, she logically takes Lynx and embarks on the journey to seek them out.
However, she soon face-plants into an invisible and impenetrable barrier that separates the property she is on from the outside world. The titular “Wall” surrounds this land on every side and prevents her escape and thwarts any and every ability to contact the outside world. People outside the wall appear frozen in time (although the movement of wind and water proves that time hasn’t stopped) and no amount of battering or crashing into the barrier makes any difference. Unfortunately for Frau, time hasn’t stopped inside the wall either and the seasons and elements are at their harshest even and especially when she finds herself low on provisions.
Gedeck brings a practical seriousness to the character of Frau, and she approaches each obstacle (real or imaginary) with an almost clinical analysis. This is not to say that she is emotionless. On the contrary, Frau’s diary (which serves as the connecting voice-over narration for the entire film) shows how she comes to rely on Lynx and the other animals on the land as dear friends, even as she fights to preserve her own humanity, language and articulation as the days stretch into weeks, months and years. Dutifully Frau writes each day and marks off each day on her calendar in an effort to remain “civilized” amid the insane microcosm she now inhabits.
Pölsler continues to take his time in the direction of this film, allowing for long takes and absorption of natural light through every change in the landscape over this impossibly long isolation. Time is marked by the seasons and the changing appearance of Frau and her animals, as well as in Frau’s evolution (or devolution) from a quiet and relaxed human being whose biggest concern is sleeping late to a skilled hunter and survivalist who struggles to maintain her definition of humanity even as that definition becomes increasingly hard to recall.
As if a sign of Frau’s frustrated confusion, stream of consciousness in her journal storytelling or perhaps an accidental rearrangement of her diary’s pages, Pölsler as writer and director intentionally abandons the linear approach to the telling of this story and allows Frau’s remembrances to meander in time. At first the tale is told by Frau (in her diary voiceover) from the vantage point of the future, but soon her voice begins to fill in parts of the story out of order from what is expected. Certain “spoilers” come into play as Frau vaguely describes events that the audience has yet to see, but these hints only serve to increase the tension and suspense of this weird and engrossing movie. We may have an idea of what happens in the next act, but how each of these events take place is a suspenseful mystery.
The Wall is nothing if not a mystery. Surely the premise would propel such a story into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy, but Pölsler and Gedeck never approach the story in this way, nor do they give us any easy answers to what has really happened and why. Viewers will surely have thousands of theories with little to be found within the movie itself to confirm or deny the truth. Movie watchers who expect a simple answer, or even a final act that wraps up and explains the previous 108 minutes will surely find themselves frustrated.
However, this curious and incomplete feeling (whether it originated with the novel or not) is wonderfully fitting for a movie this strange, isolated, bleak and inexplicable. Whatever really happened is up to you, but Frau certainly does not disclose the answer (whether it has come to her or not).
Aside from the theatrical trailer (which is enticing and largely spoiler-free) the only other DVD extra (unless you count the ability to watch the film in either German or English) is a long-form booklet by Pölsler inserted into the clamshell. This look at the making of the film and his reasons behind the project provides a smart and telling point of view for repeat viewings of this overall excellent (if anticlimactic) film. Why was this not adapted into a visual documentary or commentary track for the US release? Aside from the obvious question of language, the message seems very implicit in this DVD extra booklet.
Pölsler starts and ends by discussing the novel and permeates the internal pages with references thereto. The message of the booklet: Read the book. Luckily the movie is quality enough to stand on its own.