Julian R. Pölsler  about his film adatpation of THE WALL


«What I wanted to do primarily was create a platform for this brilliant text that Marlen Haushofer wrote.» An interview with Julian R. Pölsler on his film adaptation of THE WALL.

When adapting Marlen Haushofer’s novel, do you run up against a wall in the beginning?
Julian Pölsler: Not just in the beginning. That’s the case for a relatively long time, in my opinion, until the premiere, to be precise.

Did the novel THE WALL play a special role among the things you’ve read?
Julian Pölsler: The novel The Wall has been on my mind for 25 years. The first time I read it was in 1986, and then I began thinking about it and working on it. The rights weren’t available at first, then I bought them seven years ago and spent another seven working on it intensively. Extremely intensively.

What were the challenges involved with adapting the novel, which seems more or less unfilmable?
Julian Pölsler: I always get the more difficult things that then turn out to be the most interesting. It seems to be the same with film. I waited to do my first cinematic film for a long time. In the case of The Wall something unusual got in the way. What I wanted to do primarily was create a platform for this brilliant text that Marlen Haushofer wrote. I always did my best to put that before everything else. While that was difficult at times, it was frequently a pleasure because I consider it one of the greatest texts ever produced in German literature. I agree completely with everything that Marlen Haushofer says. Of course, I tried to include by favorite parts, and they changed at times, but two or three passages are absolutely irreplaceable.

Which passages are that?
Julian Pölsler: The first is the one where she makes the dramatic mistake that I attempt to reproduce in the film, telegraphing the dog’s death. In it she discusses her relationships with living beings, and while doing so touches upon something that’s extremely existential. Then there’s the passage where she talks about love. And the third involves the change and how she sees her inner and outer changes. This work is written in the present, and the action is inserted in a meandering fashion. I tried to reproduce that. Not as successfully as in her case - you could say that filmmakers who do literary adaptations are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants.

There’s something ambivalent about the space behind the wall in a number of different ways. It requires exclusion and a border from which there’s no return to a previous life, and at the same time offering protection, as survival is possible solely behind this wall. Has this woman been saved, or is she doomed?
Julian Pölsler: Both, and it goes back and forth from one day to the next, from one event to the next. In the end I attempted to brighten up this depressive general mood. In my opinion she’s been saved, because she’s prepared to truly deal with herself and what she has inside. She can’t run away from herself any longer.

We know that Marlen Haushofer wasn’t happy in her bourgeois life and that the woman in The Wall is autobiographical to an extent. How would you describe this character?
Julian Pölsler: I attempted to reproduce this woman, in order to produce something that does justice to Marlen Haushofer’s novel. My intention was to remain as true to the details as possible. That even includes the dog’s breed and the color of its fur. It was the same for the woman. I spoke with writer and psychiatrist Paulus Hochgatterer, who said that this book is a precise description of clinical depression. I too think that this woman’s seriously depressed, but there’s more to it. She attempts to open up a new world for herself, at first by pulling away from others. That’s why the novel was rediscovered by feminists, because the fact that the character’s a woman plays an important role. It’s no coincidence that all male energy is snuffed out: The dog, the man and the bull all die, while the woman, the cat and the cow survive.

For this role you used an actress who carries the film and its text. What qualities did Martina Gedeck contribute to this role as an actress?
Julian Pölsler: I have to admit that she wasn’t my first choice. At first I definitely wanted an Austrian and someone who seemed more fragile. Then Michael Haneke put me in touch with Juliette Binoche, and I had a great several-hour discussion with her in Paris. She would’ve liked to play the part, but then things didn’t work out. You need a Hollywood budget for 14 months of Juliette Binoche’s time. Our German coproduction partners wanted Martina Gedeck from the very beginning. I didn’t have any objection in terms of her acting, but she seemed too strong, too robust.

What were the 14 months of shooting like?
Julian Pölsler: We began in winter because I’m familiar with how unpredictable that season is in the Salzkammergut, and the coop99 production company planned it so that I could have a second winter if necessary. Right after the third day of shooting, Martina Gedeck became seriously ill and we had to take a break. Soon after that we faced the problem that it wouldn’t be possible to secure the services of a camera operator for the entire time. For each shooting slot I had to find new heads of department and fill them in on the story, at the same time without losing sight of the project as a whole. That wasn’t easy, but luckily it went extremely well, with a total of eight excellent camerapeople and four set designers. In any case, completing the project was a remarkable feat on the part of Bruno Wagner: In the course of this project he made up for all his sins, his mortal sins too, should he have any. Things started to go wrong right away, during the first major phase of shooting: We had three weeks of heavy rain that spring. And the troubles didn’t stop there: The weather was too nice in the fall, and the temperature dropped to almost minus 20 degrees Celsius in the winter. Actually, it should be called “A Film by Julian Pölsler and Bruno Wagner.” The production company, coop99, took a chance with such an extraordinary project because - to quote an article about coop99 - it had an extraordinary “man in a lumberjack shirt.”

If authenticity played such an important role, why isn’t the film set in the 1960s?
Julian Pölsler: There was some intense discussion about that. The Mercedes is from the 1960s/70s. I tried to make a timeless film because the theme isn’t specific to a certain period. A danger such as isolation is a relevant theme no matter what the year. The film also conveys a message that can be heard coming from the radio. It’s a speech given in Burmese by Aung San Suu Kyi about democracy and freedom. I considered dedicating the film to this woman. It truly impresses me, the way she penetrates the wall they’ve erected around her. Since then, fortunately, the situation has changed, and this radio speech has turned into a secret message. Aung San Suu Kyi serves as a metaphor for people who aren’t afraid and who’re prepared to go behind a wall for their inner freedom.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
November 2011