The Man in the Wall is a perfect example of a film that jumps off the rails. Except it doesn’t do only that. It manages to find a new set of rails, and jumps off those too. Then it blasts rockets to leap off into the reaches of outer space, and just when you think it might end spectacularly by crashing into a sun, it misses even that and just sails through the endless void, dying a cold, lonely death. Strap yourself in: things are about to get bumpy.
So, let’s start with the cast. Tamar Alkan plays Shir, a woman so exhausting I practiced long division in my head several times during The Man in the Wall so I’d have a distraction from having to watch her. This is not hyperbole. The entire film plays like Shir’s audition tape for The Real Housewives of Tel Aviv. I could easily describe her with adjectives like ‘shrill,’ or nouns like ‘banshee,’ ‘harpy,’ ‘shrew,’ ‘crone,’ ‘harridan,’ and many others often used with gender-coded language. I invite you to watch the film and then tell me which of these words don’t apply to her. Do you have a vested interest in how women are represented in modern film? Then don’t watch this movie, or your head will explode like the ones in David Cronenberg’s Scanners—a movie you should definitely watch instead of this one.
Sorry. I feel like I went off on a tangent. No matter. Maybe I just shouldn’t talk about Shir anymore, which is difficult, since she’s the only one on the screen for long, long, loooooooooooooooooooooooooong stretches at a time. Actually, maybe they’re not that long. Maybe it only feels that way. I’m not going back to double-check. ‘Virago!’ There’s another word I shouldn’t use. Though, I’m sure Shakespeare used that term at least once…
Look, The Man in the Wall has a pretty good first reel. Shir hears a knock on her door. It’s her neighbour with her dog. The neighbour tells her not to let her dog outside on its own to shit wherever it pleases. Except, the dog wasn’t alone! Rami, Shir’s husband, was out walking it! He seems to have completely vanished off the face of the earth!
An intriguing premise. Shir tries calling the police, but they won’t come over, since it hasn’t really been long enough for Rami to be a ‘missing person.’ Even in Israel, it seems, someone needs to be gone longer than twenty minutes or so before the authorities start to worry. Now, most wives would accept this, or maybe leave the house to search for their spouses, but not Shir. She calls the police back, and tells them that her husband has beat her. After that call, they show up right fast, and are none too pleased when Shir says ‘Me? No, I’m fine. I just said that to get you over here.’ It is more or less at this point that the film jumps off its first set of rails.
All of the ensuing chaos is made curiously more oppressive given that the director, Evgeny Ruman, keeps all of the action strictly in Rami and Shir’s apartment. We never, ever get to leave. Why not? Well, don’t think about the title too hard. There are, of course, brilliantly cinematic movies taking place in confined spaces: think of the jury room of Twelve Angry Men, the New England cottage of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the apartment in that one scene in Contempt—hell, the coffin in Buried. Shir and Rami’s apartment will not end up on this list. No attempt is made to use the space in any meaningful way. I imagine Ruman saying to his cinematographer, Eh, I told her she can go wherever she wants. Just make sure you follow her and put her somewhere in the frame.
How does it all end? Does Rami come back? Is the mystery solved? I won’t spoil it for you—though the title might if you ignored my earlier advice and started to think about it too much. When you get to the end of the film, even more questions arise: Does this ending really justify the ninety minutes I just invested in the movie? What possible reason could Evgeny Ruman have for making this film? What possibly made any director, screenwriter, producer, or financier think anyone would want to see these characters in this movie? Maybe Ruman got high, thought of the premise, and just started filming one day in his apartment with no script, and whatever footage came in he thought, Ah, fuck it, it stays in. Except, that improvisation might have lead to a more interesting movie. Everything in The Man in the Wall is deliberate, in ways it hurts my aching little head to think about.
I’ve written this review in a pretty unsophisticated manner, I’ll admit. That’s about what this film deserves. But I need to impress upon you how dick-shrivellingly, ball-tighteningly, anus-clenchingly dissatisfying The Man in the Wall is. It is, if you haven’t guessed by now, bad.
Oh! ‘She-devil.’ That can go on the list, too!