The idea of escaping to the idyllic solitude of a Walden-like locale has an allure in our hyperdigital age. But there’s a flip side, which comes quietly and unsettlingly to life in “The Wall,” Austrian filmmaker Julian Pölsler’s adaptation of Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel. Thoreau could return to society whenever he pleased; the protagonist in “The Wall” doesn’t have that luxury.
The film is told mainly in flashbacks as an unnamed woman (played by the terrific German actress Martina Gedeck, known for “The Lives of Others”) scribbles on sheets of paper the strange incidents that have befallen her since arriving at a remote Alpine hunting cabin years earlier.
A hypochondriac collector had invited the woman to his home to explore his acquisitions, but after he and his wife set off for a nearby village, she is alone — and, after an invisible, soundproof wall mysteriously materializes, left completely isolated and trapped in the mountain valley.
The woman can’t seem to find a way out, but even if she could, it seems she may not want to leave. As she explores the perimeter of her confinement, she sees people on the other side, and the alternative looks bleak. Men and women appear to be frozen in time. So she sets about discovering how to live alone in the wilderness. She harvests wheat, learns to hunt, chops wood and talks to her growing brood of companions, which includes not only an adorable pooch, Lynx, but also a cow and a cat.
Although there are a couple of startling events — the appearance of the wall and a late episode of violence — much of the story consists of everyday life, which comes off as a routine rather than anything off of “Survivor.” Pölsler’s film is quietly deliberate without ever feeling slow, thanks to a few handy assets at his disposal. The first is the setting — mountains, forest and streams inhabited by little more than herds of roaming stags. Nearly every shot looks like a stunning example of nature photography. The surroundings and low-key action mesmerize the way a snow globe might.
The flashback setup also benefits from an understated tension. There are differences between the narrator we see reminiscing about her isolation and the woman who appears in those scenes. The present-day storyteller looks more doleful, almost entirely vacant, and her hair is cropped short. What’s happened to her? And where is her trusted canine companion?
Some questions about the story creep in over the course of the film. The narrator never mentions family or missing friends, and her attempts to escape her enclosure feel a bit halfhearted. But these irritations are small in comparison to the larger questions that dog the viewer in more provocative ways long after the movie has ended. Uncertainties like: Would I have what it takes to survive in that situation? It might even give audiences a new appreciation for honking horns.
Unrated. At the Avalon. Contains some disturbing images, including a hunting scene, and brief violence, most of which occurs off-screen. In English and German with subtitles. 108 minutes.