BF London Film Festival 2012: ‘The Wall’ review

Well-known in her native Germany, Martina Gedeck is perhaps best recalled for her role in Oscar-winning Stasi drama The Lives of Others (2006). However, with a sprinkling of luck this may soon change, as recent New Wave Films acquisition The Wall (Die Wand, 2012) gears up for a 2013 theatrical release thanks to a deserved ‘Dare’ section slot at the London Film Festival. ‘Daring’ would be an apt term to describe Austrian director Julian Pölsler’s high concept drama, which blends the very best of elements Tarkovsky-style sci-fi with sumptuous vistas, courtesy of the same rolling slopes that hosted Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965).

Based on Marlen Haushofer’s bestselling 1960s novel of the same name, The Wall follows the tragic Kafkaesque tale of an unnamed woman (Gedeck) who finds herself trapped – not quite in her own body – but in the immediate woodlands and valleys surround her Alpine hunting lodge. Penned in by an invisible force field, our sole protagonist must come to terms with her own overbearing sense of loss (to her best knowledge, she is the only human left living on Earth), whilst also caring for a growing congregation of hungry and abandoned animals – including canine companion Luchs.

It’s not hard to see why Gedeck has garnered near-universal acclaim for her one-woman show, delicately moving through a complete myriad of conflicting emotions – ranging from unbridled despair to kindling hope. Told for the most part in flashback, Gedeck’s detainee ultimately loses interest in the hows and whys of her enforced imprisonment, preferring instead to concentrate in the care of the unfailingly loyal Luchs, two cats and a milk-bearing cow referred to as ‘Bella’.

Another string to The Wall’s bow is its cinematographer-centric production history. Several highly talented individuals (including Breathing’s Martin Gschlacht) worked as a team to capture the shifting seasons on show, a key indicator of the exorbitant amount of time our heroine remains trapped in her invisible cage. The results, as you would expect, are nothing short of breathtaking. Not only has Pölsler produced one of this year’s most existentially challenging sci-fi-infused dramas – he’s also partly responsible for the most visually pleasing.

Shortcomings are few and far between, but may niggle at those particularly indisposed to shots of sparky dogs and vast expanses. Harsher critics may well take issue with some of the film’s more melodramatic, animal companion-related moments, but with no humans seemingly left on the planet, it’s entirely logical (and comforting) that Gedeck’s sole survivor would transpose human qualities to her furry friends. Such quibbles and hops (rather than leaps) of faith aside, The Wall remains one of this year’s most fascinating arthouse oddities – a must for anyone who remembers the good old days, when high concept cinema was a consistently effective tool for approaching life’s greatest unanswered questions.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green