Martin Langley, Assistant Manager at the Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford, writes this week’s Discover Tuesday blog on Julian Pölsler’s THE WALL.
Based on the 1963 novel by the Austrian Marlen Haushofer, THE WALL is an unexpected treat of a film.
The story centres on the experiences of an unnamed woman (Martina Gedeck), one of a cast of only six characters, who one day finds herself inexplicably imprisoned inside an invisible wall surrounding her cabin in the Alps. Rather than the film following a more obvious sci-fi narrative, the wall itself becomes a vehicle for director Julian Pölsler to take a much more reflective and intellectually stimulating approach.
In consideration for Best Foreign-Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards, THE WALL is thematically rich throughout, and it is these elements that remain with you long after the credits have rolled.
Initially, through narrated flashback, we learn of the wall’s existence and are given a pragmatic exploration of involuntary isolation and its impact on the psyche that is reminiscent of the recent book adaptation LIFE OF PI. THE WALL, however, journeys beyond the fairy-tale stylings of Ang Lee’s film.
Our protagonist experiences death and new life at first hand while considering the morality of her actions in Mother Nature’s grand plan. The value of emotional nourishment from the companionship of animals is emphasised as she continues to exist, trapped beyond the reach of other human beings. Wider issues of our mortality and the validity of humanity’s place in the world surface, highlighted in the line “perhaps my scraps are prolonging a life that shouldn’t be prolonged” as she feeds an ostracised white crow.
Images of nature occur throughout, recalling the symbolism of Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, while the very realistic approach to the set-up’s sci-fi element is reminiscent of Shane Carruth’s 2004 gem PRIMER.
At times the narrative dissolves and is almost superfluous as THE WALL becomes more like an essay piece. The mise en scène beautifully sets the tone of the film, drawing the viewer deeper and deeper behind the wall. Sound is used intelligently in every scene, from the foreboding caw of crows or the gentle buzzing of insects in the meadow, to the subtle hum of the wall itself or the frequent, suffocating silences. Gedeck is utterly convincing, and special mention must go to her four-legged companion, Lynx, who possibly deserves an Oscar himself.
The less you know, the more you will love about THE WALL. Other filmmakers could have taken this premise in a dozen different directions, all of them inferior to that taken by Pölsler. This film will entrap you.