A tale of a femme Robinson Crusoe with evergreens instead of palms and mountain peaks instead of sandy beaches, “The Wall” reps another showcase for the mesmerizing face of thesp Martina Gedeck. Austrian TV vet Julian Roman Poelsler imbues his widescreen adaptation of the Marlen Haushofer novel with a certain visual majesty, but since the protag is always alone, the film relies exclusively on voiceover to suggest her thoughts, inadvertently turning it into something akin to a well-illustrated audiobook. Beyond German-speaking areas, this will be a hard sell.
Gedeck plays an unnamed Austrian who goes to a secluded Alpine hunting lodge with her cousin (Ulrike Beimpold) and the latter’s husband (Karl Heinz Hackl), who, shortly after their arrival, decide to visit the nearest village. When they haven’t returned by the next day, the woman goes out to look for them and discovers that, somewhere on the lakeside road back to civilization, she has been cut off from the rest of the world by the titular wall, an invisible but impenetrable barrier.
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The woman initially tries to breach or get around the wall, which is convincingly rendered through sound effects and the visible pressure on Gedeck’s hands when she pushes against what one imagines is a giant bell jar that has been dropped over a mountain range. But as in the novel, the sci-fi device is only an excuse to get the protag alone and focus on the meditative loneliness and obligatory self sufficiency they create for the woman, who, after more than a year alone on the mountain, starts writing a journal that Poelsler adds as a constant v.o. to his narrative.
To keep her company as well as help her out, the woman has various animals, including a pregnant cow, a faithful dog and two cats. She applies herself to agriculture on a tiny scale, planting potatoes and harvesting hay. Her hard work is an illustration of praxeology, which suggests that human behavior is driven by purpose, a guiding principle of the Austrian (natch) school of economics. But Haushofer and Poelsler are more interested in the moral and philosophical implications of the woman’s plight, with the protag discussing what she thinks sets humans (or in her case, a single human) apart from animals, and how she hates killing but observes and respects the laws of nature — wisdom that will be overturned in the story’s messy home stretch.
Throughout the beautifully suggested seasons, Gedeck (“The Lives of Others,” “The Baader Meinhof Complex”) holds the screen with ease. But given that she’s such a formidable actress, it is somewhat puzzling that Poelsler, who also wrote the screenplay, relies so heavily on large swaths of voiceover to express ideas that, in his adaptation, are never particularly complex. Though complementary, the pic’s images and voiceover never quite fuse into a single whole.
Like Kubrick in “2001” or Malick in all his films, Poelsler uses the mathematical perfection of classical music — in this case, Bach — to lend a cosmic and timeless dimension to the proceedings, though he lacks the virtuoso filmmaking skills of his peers to turn this specific story into something more universal.