Literally-titled Triumph of the Wall Tackles a Novel (Also, Boring) Subject


“I’m not really sure what the focus of the film is anymore,” Bill Stone states early in Triumph of the Wall, a documentary unlike any you’ll come across this year. Charmingly self-deprecating, director Stone—who explains that he was neither knowledgeable about nor interested in stone walls, the film’s topic, when he began production—isn’t a loony genius or totally inept, though he comes across as both in equal measure. Stone opens with Chris Overing, a stonemason building a 1,000-foot stone wall in rural Quebec; he initially romanticizes Overing’s task with a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance-esque emphasis on mindfulness, but Overing, uninterested in philosophizing, turns out to be a guy who’s just frustrated with his laborious work. The point-counterpoint of their positions on such work carries much of the film, but Stone also devotes an oddly touching section to two metal heads who end up pitching in, wayward bohemians who seem to have jumped out of an Annie Baker play. Certainly thought-provoking, in its narrative asceticism the film recalls Philip Gröning’s brilliant documentary Into Great Silence, and in its theorizing on physical labor, Matthew Crawford’s treatise Shop Class as Soulcraft. Despite that, Triumph of the Wall is often painfully boring and rather shapeless, not so much a crafted film as a compendium of one guy’s musings. Regardless, in an era when seemingly every documentary is tied to a hot-button issue, making one about a guy building a wall is endearing.