Rotterdam 2015: ‘The Man in the Wall’ is an excellently paced psychological drama


The Man in the Wall

Written by Evgeny Ruman

Directed by Evgeny Ruman

Israel, 2015

Presented in the Bright Future Premieres programme section of IFFR 2015 as one of the nominees for the FIPRESCI prize of the festival, The Man in the Wall is a tense, excellently paced psychological drama with fleshed out characters that seem pulled on-screen directly from life itself. Although purportedly not (auto)biographical, the story nonetheless feels very personal.

Ancient Greek playwrights would likely commend Ruman’s water-tight script for its temporal, spatial and dramatic unity. The Man in the Wall is set during one rainy night in an apartment in Tel Aviv, never distracted for a minute from its central plot complication or straying into sub-plots. Rami, Shir’s husband (played by Gilad Kahana) suddenly disappears from the flat after taking the dog for a walk, leaving his wife to question his whereabouts through an uneasy night. Similarly, the camera never moves even a metre away from the apartment in which the drama unfolds, cinematically confining Shir (played by Tamar Alkan) and her troubles to its four walls (plus a balcony), that are in the course of one night increasingly having to do less with the disappearance of her husband and more with the couple’s troubled relationship itself.

The night hours passing since Rami’s disappearance are marked by interposed logos of clock hands, dividing the film into twelve scenes that the writer/director purportedly wrote in twelve consecutive days. They are marked by visits that Shir randomly receives at likely and even unlikely hours, though generally sitting up late through the night alone. Some of the visitors may not be said to exist in the same sense than the others, though. The police and the couple’s friends come over, some of them close to both Rami and Shir, others only to Rami, still others perhaps being just in Shir’s mind… The truth unfolds to the viewer gradually, the film narration being far from reliable, trying to deceive us at every point by being ambiguous and vague, by having Shir and the other characters telling us lies or at least half-truths and stories that are completely biased.

Each of the short sequences frustrates as well as delights with its brilliantly executed atmosphere of dead ends, of hinting but seldom explaining the truth, and finally, by seemingly effortless and naturally following conclusions of scenes in absurdly comical moments. The true nature of Shir and Rami’s relationship unfolds gradually as well, deceivingly and slowly, with one final twist at the end.

There is no music to be heard accompanying the tense atmosphere of the lonely flat, haunted by feelings of jealousy, guilt, fear, anger and suspicion. If Shir is hardly ever what she tells the police and her friends, and if mysterious phone contacts, perhaps kept secret during the daytime, are everything but what they seem at first glance, then the role of the scapegoat for all of the mess keeps switching its players. In the end, it becomes clear that its existence might have been quite meaningless in the first place.

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