Julian Pölsler's 'The Wall'
Julian Pölsler's 'The Wall'

The Wall, Austria’s Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : Music Box Films. International Sales Agent: Starhaus Filmproduktion GMBH

Book-to-film adaptations are known to be tricky affairs. Furthermore, such complexity of translating a text into its visual counterpart becomes more challenging when the written piece is limited in space, characters and dialogue.  Director-writer-actor Julian Roman Pölsler’s devotion for Marlen Haushofer’s novel drove him to create a film that could have easily been deemed “uncinematic”. The story deals with profound existential questions via a woman who is stranded in the woods by an invisible barrier, and who must survive a life of emotional starvation with a group of animals as her only company. Almost completely dialogue-free, the journey is one of fully narrated metaphors and poetry by her as she writes to keep track of time and of her thoughts. What could have become something bland is rescued by the subtly of the images and passages that turn it into an almost Biblical odyssey.

After waking up alone in a lodge in the middle of the woods in the Austrian countryside, an unnamed woman (played by Martina Gedeck of Jude Suss and The Baader Meinhof Complex) searches for her friends, an older couple that she accompanied on this trip. As she walks through the roads followed by her loyal dog Lynx, she discovers a bizarre obstacle on her path; there is a wall, transparent and unbreakable. Soon enough, and after seeing other people on the other side of the wall who are not aware of her existence, she realizes that she is boxed in with limited supplies and no idea of what is happening.

The Wall Poster

As her hopes of being rescued by someone in the “outside” fade away, the woman begins to forcefully develop her primeval survival instincts. She is now exposed to the rules of nature; therefore, she slowly turns into an avid hunter and farmer, but not without a great deal of guilt, doubt, and loneliness. Her journey to self-discovery is plagued with circumstances that are mostly foreign for most living in the developed world. This woman, a city girl, must now face the elements and tough labor, yet, perhaps the most devastating enemy in her new habitat, is the immense silence and lack of human contact that coerce her to think about death.

A 108-minute audiovisual poem is what the director has crafted with The Wall . Said wall becomes irrelevant as the story develops. The woman’s self-imposed boundaries, as those imposed by everyone else onto himself or herself, are what define her as human even when surrounded by beasts.

She is still remorseful to kill, she leans onto the joyfulness of Lynx or her other animals for hope, and once she forgets about the parameters by which the world defines humanity, her animals acquire more value than those granted humanity by birth. In other words, her fellow men become more foreign than the uncertainty, and seemingly terrifying forces of untamed nature. The film includes deep philosophical inquiries; however, it is hidden under an intriguing work of art that although pensive and contained, packs luscious beauty.

There is more to this film that one can possibly cover in a review. The intricate connections it makes with everything that shapes the human experience really stimulates the mind. This woman and the relentless wall represent the constant battle to find meaning, to find significance in the insignificance of one human life, which is all anyone is ever given. She pities mankind because we are intelligent enough to resist our own innate flaws and wants; on the other hand, she hails love as the only hope for a better life, which is unimaginably touching as her world is so crippled with isolation, undoubtedly one must agree.

This is a brave cinematic statement about the human condition. It’s probably one of the most demanding experiences a viewer can have, as it asks for one to link the vast landscapes, the sounds of nature, the woman’s struggle, and the poetry of her writing into one cohesive piece of information. Still, it is worth it. Also, Gedeck carries the film on her shoulders only aided by her relationship with a dog, two cats, and a cow; that’s is a remarkable achievement. The Wall is not for those who want an easy walk in the park from a movie , but for those willing to give into its powerful message, a reward awaits in the form of thought-provoking conversations.

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