The trailer for The Wall was a fantastic and stirring bit of editing, giving the impression that Julian Pölsler’s Austrian film would be an epic voyage of self-discovery, charting a woman’s battle against the elements and the nature of fear, depression and loneliness.
Unfortunately the reality is an underwhelming film that seemingly has an invisible barrier between it and the viewer, preventing an emotional connection to the imagery on screen. Martina Gedeck’s unnamed protagonist visits a cabin in the Austrian mountains with friends, and wakes up the next day alone and surrounded by an invisible wall preventing her from leaving a considerable expanse of area.
Her first interaction with the wall is captivating material, and the film effectively shows a quiet nightmare unfolding as she experiments with ways to escape. The most striking moment occurs when she sees an old couple at their own cabin on the other side of the wall, completely frozen in time. Unmoving, a steady stream of water flows into the cupped hands of the old man, it’s a still-life image that is haunting.
The wall and its surreal subsequent imagery will have you asking many questions, none of which are answered. Yes, welcome to European cinema, where the filmmakers think this kind of behaviour is acceptable.
Adapted from Marlen Haushofer’s novel, The Wall is not a science fiction film, yet it does have an inexplicable device preventing the main character from getting what she wants. She struggles against it, then becomes accustomed to it, and lives off the land around her, making companions in the animals. You’d think the film is about civilisation versus nature, society versus a solipsistic independence, all manner of themes can be extrapolated from this film, but the film itself does not follow through and back anything up. Yes, the book was hailed as a feminist success, but just because it stars a woman, and has a, let’s say, unlikeable man, it doesn’t make for compelling film.
In the third act, a major incident occurs which is unexpected and seemingly contravenes one of the few rules established within the setup of the wall, yet like anything else in the film, is left unexplained. Once the end credits start to roll, it’s hard to come to a decision on the ending, and the film in general because there have been no options left to the viewer. You cannot do this in a film. To get away with an ambiguous ending, you need to offer the viewer options. You need to setup possible theories.
The Wall ends and you’re left asking what the point of it all was, and though some may say a thought-provoking film will not provide answers but make you ask questions, it’s no use if I can come up with any wacky theory to explain why this story occurs. Maybe bored aliens felt like tormenting an innocent woman before they destroyed the planet. Maybe a government installation nearby opened a portal to another dimension, ripping the fabric of reality. Maybe a wizard did it.
Even if we put aside the complete lack of clarity in the story, and just focus on the themes, it still feels uneven. Left in a bubble away from society, our protagonist learns to live off the land around her and has time to reflect on the purpose of life, coming to a sort of acceptance of her fate. Neither happy nor sad, she is simply ‘calm’. Again, quite underwhelming, especially considering we know nothing about her before she arrived at the cabin. She is a cipher, and we’re meant to project ourselves onto her I suppose, which is difficult because Gendeck’s performance is stilted, possibly hampered by a director who’s only previously made TV productions.
Gendeck conveys a lot of subtlety, but errs too much on that side of the spectrum, and compounded with a dire voice over that explains way too much, we’re left with a film that fails to follow the ‘show don’t tell’ mantra. There are many needless scenes and dialogue, that if we were to cut them out, we could half the running time. There is also a complete waste of opportunity in utilising the unique premise. Repetition is a good way to show progress and convey theme, a classic example would have been to continually return to the protagonist’s broken car over a period of time to show plant-life growing over it. Maybe she could have used it as a barbecue or something. The film is disappointingly unimaginative when it has such a great location at its disposal.
The Wall is visually rich but has no heart. There is no emotional connection between the film and the viewer, the soundtrack is minimal which is fine, but the classical music used was not very inspiring. The biggest flaw was that there are no pay-offs. Whether it’s a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster, or a foreign art-house independent film, the audience needs a cathartic resolution to the story and character. The character here does indeed go on a journey, though it’s not a particularly interesting one, limited in scope both physically and emotionally.
On the plus side, the film does an admirable job at putting you in the mind of a person who is utterly lonely and has to fight off depression. But the problem is that I cared more about the death of some of the animals than I did about the main character.