Runs Fri., Aug. 16–Thurs., Aug. 22 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 108 minutes.
Everybody bumps into an existential block now and again. They just don’t generally experience the literal THUNK encountered by the protagonist of The Wall. The unnamed character, played by Martina Gedeck, wakes up in her friends’ Alpine hunting cabin, only to discover the friends still absent from a hike the previous day. Accompanied by their dog, she walks along a pretty lakeside road and abruptly face-plants into a transparent, all-encompassing force field. She can’t go farther.
Don’t expect a sci-fi explanation for her roadblock. What we have here instead is pure, abject isolation, as Gedeck discovers her enclosed world includes a large swath of nature, a bevy of animals, but no other humans—and no way out. After her initial adjustment, she learns how to manage her food supply, hunt for deer, and shed her fierce I-ness in favor of a newly conscious connection to the world. If that description makes the movie’s theme sound as transparent as the all-encompassing wall, fair enough—but the execution is suitably lyrical. This setup predates Stephen King’s book and TV series Under the Dome by a long chalk: The Wall is adapted from a well-regarded 1963 novel by Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer. That’s the era of The Twilight Zone and The Incredible Shrinking Man, works that bear some resemblance to its single-premise study of how catastrophe might force an awareness of what it really means to be human. On that score, The Wall is absorbing, as Gedeck passes through the changing seasons and stupendously pretty Alpine scenery.
Director Julian Pölsler rests the concept on the strapping shoulders of Gedeck, the star of Mostly Martha and The Lives of Others. Completely deglamorized here, Gedeck makes a thoroughly believable transition from awkward egotist to focused deerslayer, albeit one with profound, conflicted musings on her lonely place in the universe. The film has a few strands of dialogue, but mostly we’re in tune with her voice-over narration, which Gedeck speaks in English for this export version (a wise move, given the torrent of words on the soundtrack). The cliché that movie narration is a weakness is nicely rebuked by Gedeck’s voice, and her genuinely thoughtful observations fall as gently as the first snow of the Austrian winter. This sort of movie requires a delicate touch, and Gedeck and Pölsler have found it.