As powerful and plangent as the book : deepening mirrors
I came to this 2013 filmed version on the back of reading Marlen Haushofer’s 1968 published book. Indeed, the republication of the book, and its reaching a new and wider audience, has come precisely because of this film. We appear to have a virtuous circle going on, for once, in the relationship between the single writer’s vision and the collaborative vision of the film.
Normally wary of film adaptations of books which have strongly resonated, I might have passed Die Wand by, except for the fact that thoughtful reviews re-iterated the powerful sense evoked by the book, speaking of the patience, depth and meditative quietude and despair in the film. I’m so glad I trusted the sensibilities of the reviewers, because with this film, is something which deepens my earlier reading of the book – and the book itself is deepened by the dynamics of vision, sound and embodiment of the narrator in Martina Gedeck’s deep performance The film, directed by Julian Roman Polsler runs for 108 minutes, and can be watched with German or English narration, and is also subtitled. I chose to have Gedeck’s voiceover, and English subtitles. A performance of this truth needs no other interpreter getting between actor and viewer, in my opinion.
The word which the film owns is ‘reverence’ – not a sterile reverence for Haushofer’s strange and disturbing book about the only woman left alive, in a lonely landscape, after some cataclysmic event has turned all life outside her Alpine valley to stone – but a reverence for the living world itself, for authenticity, and for, in Haushofer’s words, love as the rational choice. Not the gushy gushy of sentimentality, but a respect for the nature of matter, of the living and the dying of things, of the tangled, interconnecting web which human being alone have choices about – often taking the wrong paths of enmity and hatred.
Certainly this is not a film to satisfy if what is wanted is a ‘what happens next’ as, like the book, itself, a journal written by the narrator over four months as she looks back over her two years since ‘the end’, as she waits, implacably, for her own, time is looked forward to and back. There is no fast cutting, there is the slow pace of the breathing landscape, the camera and the actor observing the stillness. In this, it reminds me of the film Into Great Silence, an uspoken filmic observance of life in a Carthusian Monastery.
The transformation of the city dwelling narrator, as Gedeck inhabits her (it is a performance of inhabitation and revelation rather than of demonstration) in her designer cream frock, full faced and jittery, to the shorn haired figure, like one of the Fates, staring into the inevitability of whatever new or old may befall, is haunting.
The spacious empty soundtrack, except for Gedeck’s voiceover of occasional phrases from her journal, and the natural sounds, is perfectly deepened by the underlining, sparing use of a Bach partita, melancholy and haunting, perfectly balanced in its plenitude and its emptiness.
Forgive the purpling prose, this/these, (film and book, book and film) are fully what they are, to be experienced by their next reader/viewer, who will enter into their own relationship with both film and book