Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Wall: A Very Private Apocalypse

When the television adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome hits the airwaves, fans will duly wonder where he gets his ideas from.  Hmm, maybe Christoffer Boe’s Allegro or Marlen Haushofer’s Die Wand.  Of course, both predecessors are much more introspective in nature.  Indeed, viewers witness a very private apocalypse in Julian Pölsler’s adaptation of Haushofer’s 1963 novel, The Wall (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

A woman is holidaying with friends in the Austrian mountain lodge.  Her hosts drive into town for supplies and never return.  Venturing out the next morning she discovers an invisible barrier blocking the road.  Scouting the mountainside, she discovers the strange wall encircles her.  She can see people on the other side, but they appear frozen in place.  Time seems to only pass on her side of the wall, but it passes very slowly.

Told in flashbacks via the unnamed woman’s journal entries, The Wall consciously echoes Robinson Crusoe.  With no Man Friday, the woman develops a close bond with the couple’s dog, Lynx.  Indeed, it is largely her rapport with animals that keeps the woman engaged in her solitary world.

Obviously, The Wall implies much about man and our unbalanced relationship with nature.  The English language voice-overs are often rather heavy-handed (and clash with the limited subtitled German dialogue) but the film’s vibe and rhythm are eerily evocative.  Viewers will feel like they are getting a true taste of what it would be like to be the last sentient person on Earth.

Shot over the course of several seasons, Pölsler and his battery of cinematographers fully capitalize on the stunning scenic vistas that utterly dwarf the lone woman.  Carrying the film almost single-handedly, Martina Gedeck (co-star of the modern classic The Lives of Others) gives a remarkably assured performance.  Mixing depression and empowerment, it might be the purest cinematic portrayal of existential living.  However, it is also worth noting Pölsler’s own dog Lynx is quite the performer in his own right.

The Wall may well be a rebuke of patriarchy and industrialization, but it still works rather well as a survivor’s story.  Admittedly, it is deliberately paced (for obvious reasons), but the overall effect is hypnotic.  Recommended for those who appreciate apocalyptic and allegorical cinema, The Wall opens this Friday (5/31) at the IFC Center.