RogerBW's Blog

Die Wand 25 May 2014

2012, dir. Julian Roman Pölsler, Martina Gedeck: IMDb / allmovie

A woman staying in a remote lodge discovers that an invisible barrier is separating her from the rest of the world. (In German, viewed with subtitles.)

I'll say up front: this is not for the impatient, or for the inattentive watcher. There are many long, slow scenes in which essentially nothing happens; not, as in a horror film, to build up tension, but simply to establish the ambience, a world of long distances in which there's time (too much time) to sit and think. This is primarily a visual story (with narration, diegetic sound and only a little music) rather than one told in dialogue.

This is an adaptation of Marlen Haushofer's vastly popular book of the same name, which is presented in the format of a journal, so it makes some sense to have narration as the primary vehicle for explanation. That said, I wonder whether it would have made more filmic sense to adapt it as self-made video; yes, I know, I hate the found-footage style as much as anyone, but it might have ended up being truer to the book than the long, beautiful shots of open vistas with the heroine constantly talking, talking, talking in the background. (Of course it would imply the availability of power to keep the camera running.) We don't need to hear about her mental state; we can see it.

Martina Gedeck is the only person on camera for the vast majority of the film's running time, and she pulls this off beautifully. She's been working for nearly twenty years, mostly been in other German-language productions which I haven't seen, but I'll keep an eye out for her in future. She manages a convincing impression of someone becoming increasingly unfamiliar with human contact.

While the mechanics of the wall (and what little the protagonist can find out about the world outside it) are consistently presented, this clearly isn't an engineering story, which would be about understanding and then solving the problem. The heroine doesn't even try to find out whether the barrier continues underwater. Nor is it particularly about the raw mechanics of survival when completely cut off from civilisation and its resources, though that aspect is certainly a factor. Clearly we're meant to be operating on a metaphorical level here, or at least that's how I translate the author's desperate attempts to say "don't push too hard on the weak points in the narrative". This story is mostly about the maintenance of sanity, insofar as that's even a meaningful concept in this new world. The heroine, and I'm not naming her because in the film she is never named, goes about the routines of chopping wood and gathering food, not only to stay alive, but because it's a thing that can be done, a way to keep going. She later starts her journal, for much the same reason, and this provides the framing device for the story. (I think it would have been better off without one, actually.)

Another thing the story would have been better off without, at least for me, is a sudden narrative twist near the end. On a symbolic level in the novel it's probably quite effective; as an attempt to portray actual events in this strange world, it raises too many questions, and fails to attempt to answer any of them.

The journal ends when the heroine runs out of paper to write it on, and so does the film; there's no explanation, and there's no resolution. This is authentic to the book, but also forms my only real objection; sure, this evidently isn't the sort of story where you find out that Aliens Did It, but some suggestion of resolution to the heroine's mental state and philosophising, or even her ultimate fate ("died content" seems most likely), would be welcome. I'm fairly old-fashioned in some respects; I like conventional narratives, with beginning, middle and end, preferably in that order. Here we have no end, and very little beginning (we know nothing about the heroine's life before the wall went up); it's mostly a slice of middle, and as such is unsatisfying in spite of its filmic excellence.

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