Not much happens in The Girl and the Spider (Das Mädchen und die Spinne) but that doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. Superficially the story of one young woman moving out of the apartment she’s been sharing with another, beneath the surface it’s a roiling stew of emotion, lust, jealousy, neediness and isolation.
There’s are Bergmanesque developments, things said and unsaid, as we track Mara (Henriette Confurius) and Lisa (Liliane Amuat) through one day, a night and into the next day while around them wheel Lisa’s mother, a handyman and his helper, a neighbour or two, other young women from downstairs and next door, first in the apartment Lisa is moving into, and then back in the one she is moving out of, leaving Mara behind.
The relationship between the two of them is vague, though something clearly has been going on. Of an unequal sort – throughout Lisa looks bright and optimistic, Mara sullen and withdrawn, a cold sore on her lip an angry externalisation of various feelings she might or might not be harbouring.
Has Mara done something? Lisa’s mother (Ursina Lardi) is giving her the evil eye now and then, somehow even when she’s smiling at her.
While people fold and unfold, pack and unpack, asymmetric relations are a theme – Lisa’s mother appears to have a thing for the handyman (André Hennicke), Mara is making eyes at Jan (Flurin Giger), a strange woman from downstairs (a brief but remarkable Sabine Timoteo) flirts with Mara, the lonely lady over the way (Margherita Schoch) covets a ginger cat that’s not hers, reclusive Nora (Lea Draeger) never leaves her room if people are about. Over the road, glimpsed from the balcony, an assistant in a pharmacy fills the shelves while making hungry eyes at the outside world.
So many subterranean emotions, so many charged looks, everyone holding just a beat too long onto the eyes of the person they’re talking to, as if hoping for some sort of breakthrough.
It’s the second film made by brothers Ramon and Silvan Zürcher (the IMDb says they co-directed but the end credits list only Ramon; both wrote) and the second in their trilogy about human relations. Like Das merkwürdige Kätzchen (The Strange Little Cat), it is shot almost entirely in the confines of an apartment, where people are in constant motion, coming and going, the actors’ expertly choreographed movements masking what must have been weeks of preparation.
It’s a cinematic language of tight spaces, which perfectly matches the up-close, too-close intimacy – these people are un-selfconscious enough to peel off their clothes, or take a piss with someone else in the bathroom, but even so they all exist in their own unreachable bubble.
There is one mad, breakout moment – which I won’t ruin – which puts on screen a vivid, flailing, insane Sturm und Drang visualisation of what’s going on in everyone’s head. But apart from that it’s a catalogue of unrequited looks on the faces of characters shot in long takes, in bright, clean light. The colour yellow (the colour of madness and death, one character explains) features prominently.
Occasionally there’s a tinkly piano, but Eugen Doga’s Gramofon Waltz recurs on the soundtrack, another hint from the Zürchers that what we’re watching is a slow-motion dance.
It’s all very enigmatic, impenetrable even, and the whole thing has a fairy tale quality to it as well, as if everything we’re seeing might not really be happening at all.
I wondered if the ginger cat was the same one that featured in Das merkwürdige Kätzchen – it was made about eight/nine years before, so it’s possible – and whether the cat might feature in the third film of the trilogy. The Zürchers had better get a move on.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023