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.
Spoiler alert: If you seek science-fiction explanations for such roadblocks, you will be disappointed. What we have here is a pure kind of 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 set-up predates Stephen King 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. (The dog, too -- and dog lovers, please pack Kleenex.)
Director Julian Polser rests the concept on the strapping shoulders of Martina 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 the protagonist's voiceover narration, which Gedeck speaks in English for this export version (a wise move, given the torrent of words on the soundtrack).
The cliche that movie narration is a weakness is nicely rebuked by Gedeck's voice and the genuinely thoughtful observations that fall as gently as the first snow of the Austrian winter.
This sort of movie requires a delicate "touch," and Gedeck and Polser have found it.
"The Wall" (3 stars)
A woman (Martina Gedeck) finds herself sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible wall, forcing her to roam some acres of Alpine hills and revert to a primal place in nature. Adapted from a novel by Marlen Haushofer, this movie gets real power behind its "Twilight Zone" tale of existential isolation.
Rating: Not rated; probably PG-13 for violence.
Showing: SIFF Cinema Uptown.
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