Martin Teller's Movie Reviews

I watch movies, I write some crap

  • Recent Posts

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Meta

Die Wand (The Wall)

Posted by martinteller on June 17, 2013

An unnamed woman (Martina Gedeck) is getting away from it all in a mountain lodge with two friends.  The friends head off for an excursion in the village.  When they fail to return, the woman goes looking for them.  She finds the path is blocked by an invisible wall.  The wall appears to encircle a large area, but she is cut off entirely from civilization.  On the other side, she can see an elderly couple, apparently frozen in time, unable to see her, hear her or respond to her.  The woman has only animals for companionship: the couple’s dog named Lynx, a fluffy white cat she names Pearl, a cow named Belle, and later another cat arrives.  She bonds most closely with Lynx, her constant sidekick as she learns how to survive in the wilderness.  After some unknown period of time has passed, she writes down her story.

The film is based on the 1963 novel by Marlen Haushofer.  I haven’t read it, but judging by the Wikipedia entry, the movie is quite faithful to the source material.  With one notable exception: in the book, the woman is a widow with two grown daughters.  In the movie, we know absolutely nothing about the character’s background.  She is apparently somewhat educated, as her writing is very literary.  But there is no mention of family, home town, career.  Perhaps director Julian Pölsler made it this way so she would be an everywoman character, with more universal relatability for the audience.

But I found that not knowing anything about her robbed the film of some of its metaphorical power.  Is it meaningful, appropriate or ironic that this person is in this situation?  What does it mean that she seems to adapt relatively easily to living off the land?  Had the film told us that she was a widow, then the story’s concept could be more readily interpreted as an allegory for emotional isolation, the blocks we put up against others when coping with their loss becomes too painful.

Maybe Pölsler didn’t want us to read that into it, however.  Maybe there is no metaphorical implication at all, and it’s simply a tale of survival with “the wall” being a mere plot device to force the situation.  I don’t think so (there’s a multitude of better ways to achieve that) but it’s a possibility.  The film is very ambiguous in its meaning.  Ambiguity can be delightful, but it can also be a burden.  While I celebrate the daring attempt to subvert an audience’s expectations, to me there wasn’t enough to latch onto to make it a fully engaging experience.  It’s a promising experiment, but the promise isn’t fulfilled to satisfaction, especially in the moments where it becomes tedious and repetitive.  It also struck me as somewhat misanthropic.  It seems to be saying that one is better off in the company of creatures other than humans, and the woman never speaks fondly of any people in her life.

On the other hand, one thing the film accomplishes quite nicely is exploring the comforts we get from our animal companions.  The bond with Lynx is beautifully developed without a shred of trite sentimentality.  He is as much a character as Gedeck.  There’s also nice cinematography, especially with such a lovely wilderness as the background.

A word must be said about the narration.  There’s a lot of it.  We only see Gedeck speak a few words, but she says a lot in voiceover (dubbed in English for this release, which in this case I think was the right choice).  Having read some other comments beforehand, I was a little worried about it.  I would say 75% of it is just fine, giving information in an efficient way or expressing a state of mind that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent.  But the other 25% is a case where the “show, don’t tell” rule really should have applied.  She’s telling us things we can clearly infer from the situation and Gedeck’s face.  Or she’s telling us things that would have been better left to the viewer’s imagination.  Perhaps this is why the ambiguities didn’t quite work for me, because Pölsler didn’t commit to them strongly enough.  There were many moments that I thought would have been far more intriguing and satisfying without the narration.  Also, the language can be overly florid, with superfluous adjectives and such.  And if I may, I have one more gripe: the song on the car stereo is all about freedom, which is way, way too on-the-nose.

I have very mixed feelings about this one, and it’s tough to write about.  I was very grateful to have this be a movie club selection, because the discussion afterwards was valuable in sorting my thoughts.  It was also more stimulating than the film itself.  Maybe this is the mark of a great film?  But I don’t feel in my heart it was a great film.  There are interesting things about it, and it did promote good discussion… but I had some problems with the execution.  What some saw as intriguing ambiguities I saw as a lack of direction.  Despite my somewhat low rating here, I’m glad I saw it and got a chance to talk about it with others.  Rating: Fair (68)


5 Responses to “Die Wand (The Wall)”

  1. Michael said

    Martin, thank you for facilitating the discussion on this film. This was my first film discussion in Portland, and really my first since a film class in college more than 15 years ago. It was very refreshing, with sincere opinions and a great deal of mutual respect for others’ perspectives. I enjoyed The Wall and appreciated it, but like you, had mixed feelings. I thought the scenery was beautiful and the cinematography was very good, especially some of the extreme closeups of the main character’s face as she made various realizations while waking from sleep. Overall it left me with a dreary feeling, an impression that we’re really all just animals making our way through life, life is hard and lonely, and modern society shields us from these realities. When you take the person out of society and it becomes painfully clear. This is not my personal belief, and my views were not changed by the film, but it did get me thinking and feeling, which could be one mark of a successful artistic endeavor. Certainly this gets high marks from me compared to just about any Hollywood blockbuster.

    • I hope you continue to come to the meetups. It’s a pretty good group of folks. It was nice to see such a large turnout. Thank you for sharing your comments here. I skip most of the Hollywood blockbusters, but I’m inclined to agree.

  2. elle said

    this was a very sad, lonely, depressing yet beautiful movie. I pray I never find myself in this position

  3. Richard said

    I couldn’t stop watching this movie over and over on Netflix. Perhaps if I hadn’t spend my 61 years living without a dog at home, the movie wouldn’t have moved me so much. And to add, I fell in the love with the woman (with or without knowing her past/with or without makeup). This movie was as far from Hollywood as could be: my kind of stuff. My find of poetry. Anyone, the least bit unmoved by this film, would have to be cold and lifeless. To say, it was very much worth watching, and without having to over analyze.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: