The Wall (Die Wand) Review
A woman (Martina Gedeck) goes to stay with her cousin Luise (Ulrike Beimpold) and Luise's husband Hugo (Karl Heinz Hackl) in their lodge in the Austrian Alps. One day, Luise and Hugo go to visit a nearby village...and they do not return. The woman finds that the lodge and the nearby fields are surrounded by an invisible and impassable wall. Alone except for a dog, a cow and a cat, the woman tries to survive...
Based on a novel by Marlen Haushofer and adapted by director Julian Roman Pölsler, The Wall (Die Wand) strips its story down to essentials. The woman is unnamed and is the only human being onscreen for the majority of the running time: there are all of six credited actors, and three of those are brief non-speaking roles, two of them nearby villagers seemingly frozen in space. Has some sort of apocalyptic event taken place? The woman does not know, and nor do we.
Given the premise, you'd expect there to be little scope for spoken dialogue, and you would be right: there is very little of it. However, what we do get is an extended voiceover by the woman, justified by the journal we see her writing, in no certain knowledge that anyone will read it. The woman soon becomes self-sufficient, planting crops and harvesting hay, supplementing this with hunting nearby animals for food. Meanwhile, she develops a close bond with her dog (Luchs in German, translated as Lynx in English). Even so, she hangs on to her humanity, as the only creature in her enclosure with language, and a moral code. For that reason, she doesn't "belong" - cue some heavy symbolism involving a white crow. The film takes place over two years and all four seasons (stunningly shot by nine cinematographers). The ending is a point of closure, but is at the same time open-ended.
The Wall is a first cinema feature for Pölsler, who had worked for Austrian television from 1991 onwards. Some of the voiceover is a little over-expository, given that Gedeck is a strong enough actor to convey much of it through her face and body language alone. The ending is a little clumsy and comes close to the film breaking the rules it sets up for itself. But there's much to commend here, and it's a film that does stick in the mind. It was Austria's official submission for the 2014 Oscars in the Best Foreign-Language Film category, but this did not translate into a nomination.
The Wall is distributed by New Wave Films on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 2.40:1, anamorphically enhanced. The Wall was digitally captured on the Red One MX, at 4K resolution. The transfer has the non-grainy sharpness you often get with digital production, and the colours are strong: rich greens during autumn and summer, clean whites in winter with snow on the ground. Blacks are solid and shadow detail is fine.
There are three soundtracks on this DVD, two in Dolby Digital 5.1 and one in Dolby Surround (2.0). Given the minimal dialogue, you'd expect the soundtrack to be very important, and it is. The surrounds are used for ambience, some discreet selections from Bach, and some directional effects, notably a key gunshot echoing in the rear speakers later on. There isn't much call for the subwoofer. The reason why there are two 5.1 tracks is that you have a choice between a version with a German-language voicever and dialogue and one with an Engish voiceover (still read by Martina Gedeck) though with the on-screen dialogue still in German. English subtitles are optional.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer (1:54), in anamorphic 2.40:1 and with extracts from the voiceover in German.