This is a documentary like no other. There is no linear narrative, no protagonist and no plot. Neither the places nor the people are identified. A voice-over reads the short story ‘The Great Wall of China’ in German, which was written by Franz Kafka nearly 100 years ago, in 1917. Yet this highly allegorical and metaphorical film remains a documentary because the Europe that it portrays is very real, and – apart from the eerily suitable Kafka – nothing is fictionalised.
The Great Wall is a highly sensory, contemplative and reflective movie about a gigantic and often insurmountable physical and political wall that separates Europe from its poor Southern neighbours. It strongly relies on images and clever camera movements in order to hook the audience, which it does with tremendous success. The movie is never boring. Make sure you watch it in the cinema screen in order to fully immerse yourself.
The fact that Kafka’s short story fits in so well is powerful reminder that walls and divisions are almost universal and atemporal. The Irish filmmaker Tadhg O’Sullivan only had to swap around North and South, and it’s almost like Kafka wrote the 1917 piece for the increasingly insular and xenophobic EU in the 21st century.
He describes the aliens from the South: “the cruelties they commit in accordance to their nature” – not too different from how Britain First would describe people from North Africa. Their predicted fate is equally bleak: “they will run themselves lost in the air because our country is so vast”. Refugees portrayed in the movie seen to be in a limbo, in an unnamed camps in undisclosed locations Europe. Migratory birds appear more than once in the movie, perhaps suggesting that migration is an unstoppable movement.
Images of walls in Greece, Spain blend in perfectly with the streets of Canary Wharf (in London) and buildings in Germany – all in their magnificent coldness and soullessness. There are mirrored glasses and metal everywhere, a sharp reminder of threatening impermeability of the EU. Water is also conspicuous: the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London and the Mediterranean in the South. Here water is divider, and bridges serve to segregate rather than to unite.
Yet the Europe (or EU) painted here is very uniform in its gloominess and sadness. The film meanders seamlessly from Greece to Spain to Canary Wharf; the montage is so outstanding that the old continent feels like one place. Human beings here are borderline superfluous, given the vastness of the landscape. The accompanying music veers from classic to some subtle electronic screeching, from peaceful to gentle jarring.
The Great Wall opens the Open City Documentary Film Festival in London on June 21st, and the screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Tadhg O’Sullivan. – click here in order to accede to our calendar and find out more about the event.
Watch the film trailer here: