Mulling solitude in a sublime ‘The Wall’
BY BILL STAMETS July 3, 2013 9:00PM
‘THE WALL’ ★★★½
Woman Martina Gedeck
Hugo Karl Heinz Hackl
Luise Ulrike Beimpold
Man Wolfgang Maria Bauer
Music Box Films presents a film written and directed by Julian Roman Polser. Running time: 108 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening Friday at the Music Box.
Updated: August 6, 2013 6:06AM
‘Today, the fifth of November, I will begin my report,” narrates a nameless woman in the German film “The Wall.” “I will set everything down as precisely as I can and yet I don’t even know if today really is the fifth of November ... I’m not writing for the sheer joy of writing.”
Scribbling by candle light with a pencil stub, the woman (Martina Gedeck from “The Lives of Others” and “Mostly Martha”) writes about adapting to life behind an invisible, impenetrable wall that inexplicably appears in the Austrian mountains. This framing scene alternates with chronological flashbacks relating how she survives with only animals for companions. Austrian writer-director Julian Roman Polser turns “Die Wande,” the 1963 novel by Austrian author Marlen Haushofer, into a sublime meditation on solitude.
In the first flashback, the woman’s hosts drive her to their rustic lodge and then head off to a nearby village on an errand. Their dog stays behind. The next morning, the woman encounters the wall. Unlike the 2000 film “Cast Away” and the new CBS series “Under the Dome,” “The Wall” implies that the outside society ceases to exist. The only people she can see through the transparent wall are an old couple at a distant cabin. Both look immobile, likely dead: his hand rests on a pump handle as water runs; with eyes closed, she sits on the porch.
“Something like the wall simply could not exist,” reasons the woman in Haushofer’s novel, published two years after East Germany erected the Berlin Wall. In the film, she touches the wall at three places, but never hikes far into the rocky wilderness to check its boundaries. Rain and snow still fall, although no passing jets leave trails across the sky. Only static is heard on the radio.
The wall turns up twice in her dreams. It is not a symbol. It’s just there. She puts it out of mind. Nor does she think about life before the wall. Her husband and two daughters matter far less than a cow and her calf, a cat and her kitten, a white crow ostracized by its black peers, and a Bavarian mountain hound.
“I quite forgot that Lynx was a dog and I was a human being,” the woman writes of their first summer together. “I knew it but it had lost any distinctive meaning.” Amidst vast alpine scenery, she feels like “the only creature that didn’t belong here, a human being.” Sorting out her individuality in isolation is one of her chores, like milking the cow, baling hay, cutting firewood, growing potatoes and shooting deer.
Along the lines of Virginia Woolf’s call for “A Room of One’s Own,” Polser creates a whole world for one woman to write. She is not depressed at the thought that no one will ever read her words. When she runs out of paper, though, she fears surrendering to an inner “abyss.”
Bill Stamets is a Chicago free-lance writer and film reviewer.