The day of the move – the logistics, the stuff, the intricate tangle of emotions – proves to be the perfect setup for Ramón and Silvan Zürcher’s signature narrative language. That language is based on the fascinating use of a still camera, characters moving in and out of the frame, their relationships gradually revealed (or not), their tensions illuminated in quirky and jarring exchanges. Awarded the Best Director Award in the Encounters section of the Berlin Film Festival 2021, The girl and the spider spins more than a dozen characters throughout its two-day narrative of a young woman’s move to a new apartment. But it is the roommate she leaves behind who is at the center of the whirlwind drama of friends, relatives, contract workers, and raw, unexpected feelings.
Arriving nearly a decade later the strange little cat, the debut that heralded the Swiss-born, Berlin-based Zürcher twins as filmmakers of striking originality, their second film expands on the visual grammar of that 2013 film. Working again with cinematographer Alexander Haßkerl, they capitalize on the weirdness of the familiar in ways that are at once inscrutable and transparent, comic and poignant. Philipp Moll’s charming score helps drive the process forward with a tantalizing mix of restraint and exuberance, in sync with the dazzling, intensely watched performances.
The girl and the spider
The bottom line
It casts the everyday in a mysterious and memorable light.
The images that open the film encapsulate the psychological territory to be explored: first there is the clean geometry of an apartment floor plan, a PDF printout that will become, yes, a minor character in the story, and then there is the view of a jackhammer breaking up a sidewalk. For Mara (Henriette Confurius), who created the previous item for Lisa’s (Liliane Amuat) departure, the ground beneath her is shattering.
It takes a while to determine the connection between the two, whether they are sisters, ex-lovers, or friend-enemies. And while the film’s dialogue and sharp glances offer hints of context, we never really get a definitive answer. When Lisa’s new downstairs neighbor looks at Mara and asks, “And you are?”, Mara’s hesitation is fraught with revealing uncertainty. Lisa’s terse response that Mara is her roommate, and that she’s not moving in with her, answers a few questions and opens up many more. And the way she commands Mara to “let go” reverberates far beyond the immediate issue of the household item that Mara is holding.
The action begins at the blank slate in the new apartment. Lisa’s mother, Astrid (Ursina Lardi), apparently arrives to help. But her main contribution seems to be the watchful, sometimes suspicious and hurt look she directs at her self-possessed daughter and the pained Mara, whose herpes blister she is quick to point out. (Later, Mara will also have a fresh red scratch on her forehead; she is a scarred woman, her pain bubbles to the surface and Confurius’s bright but hooded gaze seeks relief.)
Astrid’s omission of the social niceness filter is something Lisa has inherited and polished with a youthful imperiousness; she will return it to her mother with devastating and escalating precision. With her husband absent from her, Astrid makes no secret of her enjoyment of the discreet sparks that ignite between her and mover/handyman Jurek (André M. Hennicke). The youngest actor, Jan (Flurin Giger), who turns out to be the story’s unlikely Casanova, can’t help but stare at a seemingly disdainful Mara.
Another future roommate of Lisa’s, Markus (Ivan Georgiev), arrives with a sofa whose yellow hue soon becomes noticeable as the color of jealousy and insanity. Jealousy is an emotion that Mara is clearly dealing with, cut off as she is by Lisa’s departure, whatever the nature of her relationship. And madness is a well-worn movie trope for roommates, one that the Zürchers acknowledge, embrace and mock, all at once. The romantic feelings that Mara clings to may be based on reality or they may reside only in her imagination. Back in the old apartment, where most of the film takes place between packing up, tearing down appliances, and random visits from mischievous, eagle-eyed neighbor kids, one floor downstairs is occupied by Kerstin (Dagna Litzenberger). Vinet) with sad eyes and her roommate on the brink of sanity, Nora (Lea Draeger), who has a vampiric aversion to daylight and rarely dresses.
As in their first film, the Zürchers bring a new perspective to the connection between humans and the wild, specifically within the domestic trappings of the story. In addition to the impression of the floor plan, which will undergo transformations at the hands of various characters, non-human figures in the story include a pair of dogs, a cat, and the title arachnid, greeted by key people in the story with unsuspecting delight. : a poetic reflection of childhood, innocence and the attractiveness of nature. (In his first film, a moth played a similar role in the family apartment where the story was taking place.)
The film’s timeline is concise, but within that framework, which includes a party at the apartment Lisa is leaving, the flirtations, seductions, and humiliations unfold with uncommon intensity. Mara, Lisa and Astrid say strange and disturbing things, their cruelty and rancor sometimes improvised, sometimes calculated. These characters have a capacity for understanding, but not necessarily for compassion. The story expands to encompass a clerk (Seraphina Schweiger) at the pharmacy across the street, an elderly neighbor (Margherita Schoch) with a particular fondness for a cat that isn’t hers, and the waitress (Birte Schöink) who once lived in Mara’s apartment and left behind a piano.
That waitress is one of the ghosts between the lines of Mara’s story. Sharing memories of her, both Mara and Astrid try to hold on to Lisa by binding her to the past, another spectral expression. But habit and comfort give way to chance, and other people’s decisions interrupt family trajectories. For a fleeting moment, a computer glitch, a ghost in the literal machine, turns Mara’s floor plan PDF into a chaos of random beauty, an instant she tries and fails to recapture. Unlike Mara, the writers and directors of The girl and the spider they can shape and control their history. They orchestrate a final sequence of high-impact lyricism, bringing their mystery-infused story of everyday life to a brilliant and open-ended conclusion.