With a host of television movies to his name, Austrian director Julian Pölsler finally presents his first theatrically released picture with The Wall, a film so bold in its approach and provocative in its narrative, that one can only imagine what he may release as his second feature film. Though something of a fantasy, the concept itself draws similarities to the Berlin Wall, allowing us to place this story in a more naturalistic environment.
We begin by witnessing an exhausted and embittered woman (Martina Gedeck), desperately scribbling down her thoughts, as she recalls the unforeseen set of events which led to her abandonment and current disheartening state. As we proceed into a flashback, we see her on holiday at a picturesque Austrian location, alongside two close friends. One morning when they don’t return from a local trip, she begins to feel anxious and so heads out to investigate. However when she reaches a certain point in the village she finds an invisible wall blocking her in, disallowing her the chance to leave. Confined to just a small area, she befriends a dog named Lynx, as she prepares for an indefinite stay behind this impenetrable barrier, meandering aimlessly, as she struggles with a lifetime devoid of any human contact.
Intense from the very word go, Pölsler takes us on a heart-rendering journey alongside his protagonist, triggering a host of conflicting emotions along the way. At certain points there is a chilling and eerie atmosphere present, while at others there is something oddly magical about this concept, as we tap into the mystery surrounding this wall. The most prevalent theme is that of a portentous, foreboding one, particularly as we have seen this unnamed woman far into the future, so we are fully aware during the flashbacks that there is a long way to go yet, as Pölsler prepares us for the arduous task ahead.
The story is so desolate however, that if there is any slight grain of hope or happiness we really feel its effect. There is also something incredibly absorbing and hypnotic about this title, which is certainly enhanced by the monotone narration by Gedeck. Her character avoids a typically sensationalist take on her predicament, as she remains calm throughout, avoiding melodrama and heading down a more pensive route. The narration does become somewhat overbearing though, not leaving the audience with much by way of imagination, as everything is explained for us in black and white. Pölsler should have more confidence that his story can be told directly through the images presented.
Where The Wall excels greatest, is within the astonishing performance by Gedeck. Such a film is completely reliant on having a strong lead performance, given she is the only character of any real note, appearing in every single scene – and she doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. She is fortunate to be behind a director who has handled the concept so efficiently though, as the way we witness this lonely woman suffer with confusion, isolation, boredom and fear is incredible, while her relationships with the surrounding animals is equally as intriguing a plot point.
The Wall is a riveting piece of cinema, and given it bears such a simplistic, obscure narrative, Pölsler does a fine job in holding down your attention throughout, as a well constructed picture that ensures the audience don’t have to worry about suffering from waves of tedium. Complete with a harrowing ending, this film is bound to linger in your mind for days, providing the viewer with a fair amount to ponder over.