The Wall (Die Wand)
Directed by Julian Roman Posler
Written by Julian Roman Posler
Starring Martina Gedeck, Karl Heinz Hackel, Ulrike Beimpold
One of the sheltered joys of film festivals is the potential to stumble across an obscured or invisible gem of a film which you hadn’t heard of, one of those projects that managed to slip under your well attuned celluloid radar. With numerous websites overflowing with release schedules and news feeds humming with the details of latest hot property the multiplex and art-house attuned tend to be aware of incoming product and update their social schedules accordingly. Festivals give you a chance to throw caution to the wind, to stride into unknown territory with movies illustrated with only a passing paragraph in the events programme, to take a risk with your previous time which can sometimes reap handsome dividends, one of the spins of the roulette wheel
For me this was mostly the case with The Wall, an Austrian mystery film starring Martina Gedeck who is probably best known internationally for her role in the secretive The Lives Of Others which accrued international plaudits and a prestigious Foreign Language Oscar back in 2006. Gedeck stars and single handedly carries the entire film as an unnamed woman who is enjoying a brief getaway with two of her older friends and their dog, perched up in the beautiful eyries of the Austrian Alps, her friends deciding to walk into town once she arrives at the pastoral cabin, she deciding to get an early night after an exhausting drive. The next morning she awakes to find her friends never returned home but the dog Luchs has remained by her side, faintly perplexed she purposely strides down to the nearby town only to discover than an invisible barrier has sealed her off in a sanity testing goldfish bowl, an annex stretching like an inverted wine glass across a broad perimeter of her domicile, the radio dead and telephones neutralised. Inexorably drawn into this Teutonic Twilight Zone the woman must eventually make a fateful decision – to attempt a trek across the unyielding mountains, not knowing if the barriers reach has fully partitioned her from the rest of civilisation – or is it protecting her from something outside?
The Wall stimulates the playful barriers erected in Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel without the wider satirical canvass, zeroing in to a single victim rather than a microcosm of bourgeois antipathy, crossed with Stephen Kings recent novel Under The Dome which also used the invisible prism to observe a micro society turning upon itself, with a tempo and aura more akin to Haneke’s grim Time Of The Wolf than more recent American mysterious and apocalyptic interludes. The film unfolds in flashback after a few years of the woman’s supernatural exile, she recounting her experience in a journal through gloomy illuminated lantern light in the silent cabin, with her omnipotent voice-over taking the audience through her initial confusion and increasing isolation, with the sound design in particular being eeriely effective, draining out the ambient woodland sounds to be replaced with a low ominous, alien droning when approaching the inscrutable, invisible barrier.
The woman – an arcetype of course given her unamed nature – is almost some inverted Noah establishing a new menagerie of affection and utility, shepherding a lost cow back to her cabin for life sustaining milk and collecting a duo of felines, slowly building a comforting paddock to alleviate the gloaming loneliness that her predicament has foisted upon her. The metaphors are there if you want them, a future shock where precious life sustaining resources are increasingly sporadic and sparse, forcing a return to a more pastoral, agricultural, sustainable time? Or maybe simple mediation on loneliness and isolation in our increasingly atomised and fragmented societies? The Wall’s ambient ending might be ingested as something of a let-down, a failure to answer the questions and queries that the film unavoidably provokes, but given the films metaphoric nature it’s difficult to see an alternative solution, in this cryptic and haunting enigma.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs Oct. 10th – 21st. Learn more about The Wall.