Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Wall (2012) (4 Stars)

This film is based on a 1963 novel by the Austrian author Marlen Haushofer. The director, Julian Pölsler, says that he wanted to film the book immediately after reading it, but he had to wait 25 years to acquire the rights. As soon as the project was in his hands he approached the actress Martina Gedeck to ask her to play the leading role of the unnamed woman. As if it were destiny she replied, "Of course I will. It's my favourite book".

I had never heard of the author before today, but the story is something that could have come from the pen of Franz Kafka. Even the title sounds like a Kafka novel. A woman visits her cousin, who has a hut in the Austrian mountains. Her cousin drives into the next village, but never returns. When she attempts to leave she finds that an invisible wall is surrounding the mountain. All attempts to escape prove to be futile. After her initial panic she begins to fight for survival. She grows potatoes and she shoots deer for meat. Initially her only companion is her dog, Luchs, but she later adopts a stray cat and captures a cow that she can milk. The film covers her first two years within the wall, but it's suggested that she remains for many more years.

What is the novel about? Some reviewers call it a sci-fi novel. Some call it an existentialist novel. Some call it a feminist novel. It could be any of them. I don't think that the author planned for a single simple interpretation. The sci-fi aspect is very brief. It's presented as the background of the story, but as it continues it becomes irrelevant. Some reviewers claim that the story is allegorical, i.e. it never really happened. It's the story of a woman who feels isolated. That's possible, but I don't believe it's relevant whether the events are really happening or not. A more important question is what the wall symbolises. Is it there as a prison or to protect her? Initially she sees it as a prison. As time develops her isolation makes her stronger. She becomes able to do things that she would never have attempted to do under normal circumstances.

It's interesting that she has no name. She gives names to her animals, but she herself renames anonymous. It's as if she is on a spiritual journey, freeing herself from her ego. She is regressing to being the Urmensch, the original man. She becomes one with the animals, but she never becomes an animal. "If you try to become an animal you will trip over the animal and fall into the pit". On the other hand, when she finally meets another human, a man, after two years, he is primitive, like an animal. Rather than accepting him for company she shoots him. This is probably one of the reasons for the feminist interpretation. The intelligent, self-sufficient woman has no need of the primitive man. The best that Man can aspire to is to be a hunter-gatherer, but Woman can plan.

The film was a labour of love for Julian Pölsler. He spent 14 months filming in the mountains. It was important to him that he should show all four seasons as they occured, rather than faking the transition with computer graphics. It's even more amazing that Martina Gedeck was willing to do this. She's one of Germany's top actresses and usually makes two or three films each year, but she was willing to be isolated in the mountains for all this time. It's very much a one-woman film, even more than "Gravity". We see the cousin for about five minutes at the beginning and the primitive man for another five minutes near the end; for the remaining 90 minutes Martina is alone on the screen.

What can I take from the film for myself? I have a wall around me. It would be fair to say that it was erected in 2008, when I moved to where I live now. I used to know people and have a social life. Then I withdrew from society. I talked to very few people. To be honest, nothing happened for five years until 2013, when I started to venture outside. I'm currently writing an autobiography, and those will be my empty years. What can I write about them? Nothing. It was daily routine. Did the isolation of those years make me stronger? Probably not. Not in the way that it helped the woman in the film. But I survived. And I'm still alive today.

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