Chris Overing is not quite Sisyphus, but a couple of years into his project of building a stone wall you have to wonder what he’s being punished for. Not that he entertains such thoughts. “This is art,” he asserts. How do we know it’s art? “If it’s insane and you’re still doing it, well it must be art.”
The rich valley land at the foot of Rigaud mountain, just an hour west of Montreal, is home to both hard scrabble farmers and gentlemanly equestrian estates. It is on the latter that Overing works out a deal with the owner, who remains nameless. On an elegant stretch of road, Overing will spend the summer of 2001 building a 1000-foot long, four foot high wall out of local stone. Bill Stone, the aptly named documentary filmmaker, tags along, thinking he’ll watch some manly labour and make a film for his troubles. But by the end of summer, with 80 ft of the wall completed, they are 92% behind schedule. Somewhere the gods are laughing.
Loosely structured around the comings and goings of the seasons and the slow snaking formation of the wall, Triumph of the Wall balances meditative depth alongside a sardonic awareness of the futility of the entire project. “There’s nothing going on here,” Stone narrates, too many years into the task. “What am I looking for.” Later, his frustration cannot be contained and he peppers Overing with questions, trying to pin both his schedule and his motivations down. Suddenly Stone’s narration cuts into the scene. “What the hell am I saying here,” he groans.
Overing, for his part, doesn’t waste time questioning this vocation. It’s just something that’s not finished yet, and that’s that. Full of quick energy and unwavering drive, he’s a fetching force of nature. But none of that fully cuts it for Stone.
A couple more years in, the two go on a road trip to visit other rock wall builders in the US. There, they meet thoughtful hewers of stone who poetically expound on the grand task of laying rock on rock. Stone wonders how much better his film would be if only he were working with someone like that. Yet, “what’s meaningful,” he asks with no small amount of resignation. “If Jamie (in upstate NY) talks about monks is that spiritual? And if Chris talks only about gravel, is that not spiritual?”
A road movie about two guys who don’t really go anywhere, with the wall standing in for wife, girlfriend, car, job and boss, Triumph of the Wall is endearing and surprisingly engaging. Ironically, after all was said and done it wasn’t entirely clear to me whether the wall had actually been completed by film’s end. An epilogue may of helped. But then again, maybe it really doesn’t matter.
Triumph of the Wall plays at Cinéma Excentris, April 12-18.
Bill Stone and Chris Overing will be at Cinéma Excentris this Friday April 12 at 8:45 pm to exchange with the audience at the end of the screening.
Bill Stone will also attend the screenings Saturday April 13 and Sunday April 14 at 8:45 pm.
Leila Marshy is Editor of The Rover.