A Girl and Her Dog, by Tyler Smith
Julian Polsler’s The Wall is a simple enough film. A woman gets trapped alone behind an invisible- but very real- wall in the middle of nowhere. Cut off from the rest of humanity, she finds solace in local wildlife and pets, chiefly her dog. Like I said, pretty simple. But it is in that simplicity that we find a creeping dread that slowly envelopes the film. This is not the dread of impending death, or even loss or injury, but of total isolation. And the film is so beautifully and efficiently mounted that I wish it were more engaging.
I’m reminded in many ways of Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away, in which a normal man is stranded on a desert island and must learn how to survive on his own completely alone. As the reality of his situation sets in, the sense of desolation becomes just as inescapable as the paradise in which he is trapped. And, throughout it all, we watch the man change from a time-obsessed workaholic to a stoic survivalist.
The protagonist in The Wall, a woman simply referred to as Frau, is shown to be a very strong, independent woman. Rather than seeming personally ill-equipped to deal with the situation, she seems very capable from the outset. When she sets her mind to something- be it tending to the fields or playing midwife to a cow in labor- she is going to get it done. Martina Gedeck plays Frau as a woman of will; focusing on one task at a time in order to distract herself from her overall predicament.
The film is first and foremost a character study. However, it is only that: a study. As Frau organizes her life behind the wall, we are only able to watch and study her, hearing her ever-present voiceover narrate the proceedings. While this is at times fascinating- mesmerizing, even- it eventually stops being interesting. The problem with watching a study rather than a story is that it all becomes very mundane. Eventually, I found myself wondering when it would all be over.
And perhaps this was intended by Polsler. Maybe he wanted to lull us into the day-to-day boredom of the basic tasks that Frau is now forced to do. And that’s fine. But I think it would have all been much more engaging if we had a sense of just who Frau was before the wall appeared. As it is, we are allowed to see just a tease of who she was, but not enough for her to really register as a character. In actuality, she doesn’t seem much different at the end than from the beginning. She acts pretty distant from her fellow man already; the wall just seems to be a manifestation of that.
Again, this is likely intended by the director. But it leaves us nowhere to go. Despite the (at times, overwrought) narration, I felt no closer to Frau at the end of the film than I did at the beginning. Because, unlike Zemeckis’ Cast Away, I don’t know who she was or where she came from. I have nothing to contrast her with.
And so we end up with a film with an interesting conceit in a beautiful remote mountain location with a very willing and capable lead actress. Given these elements, the film could have been- should have been- so much more intriguing. Unfortunately, after the fascinating first thirty minutes, the film loses focus. It becomes directionless. It doesn’t know where it is going, because it doesn’t know where it’s been. The result is a film that finds its peak early on and remains there for the duration and, in doing so, creates a sort of emotional plateau. In fact, a plateau is a very good image with which to sum up this film. It is vast and expansive, but ultimately flat.