The Girl and the Spider : ‘Berlinale’ Review – A powerfully choreographed exploration of alienation
People hold on to each other as long as they can. However, separation is inevitable. If not death then a change of place or the need to grow up often puts people in flux. In director brothers Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s “The Girl and the Spider,”(Das Mädchen und die Spinne) this need or desire to hold on is laid bare in the confinements of the space it pans out in.
Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is moving out of the apartment she shared with Mara (Henriette Confurius). But a sort of yearning encapsulates the air between them. Set within the two apartments (the older one Lisa and Mara shared & the new one Lisa is moving into), the Zürcher brother’s second feature is set to everyday rhythms. However, I would be lying if I say these feel like everyday rhythms. The hyper-stylized aesthetics that the directors bestow to their film give it a kind of otherworldly feeling. As if these interactions take place in a dream within a dream.
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The first noticeable thing here is the director duo’s deliberate focus on breaking things. This is a direct amplification of the separation at its core. The film begins with construction workers plunging the road. The sound of the drill is coherently heard as a background score of a tense setting. We are slowly made aware of this sound as it grows louder and louder until it is put to rest by an anti-canceling happy classical music cue.
This is a great use of technical aspects of filmmaking to trudge a gap between the play-like setting of the film and its necessity to fill up the cinematic landspace. Within seconds we are also made aware of the plot of the film. Lisa is moving into a new, independent apartment – leaving her roommates behind. Her mother is willfully helping with shifting stuff out of her now old apartment to the new one.
Tension is pretty evident. In fact, the directors especially use their skilled technical wizardly to amp it up a notch. The confinements of the house, characters moving in and out of frame, the necessitated feeling of dwelling on memories that these characters share. all help build up the atmosphere they want to acquire here.
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There are no shocking revelations or grand reveal as the setting might clue you into. On the contrary, this is an observational look at people and how change shape-shifts their wants and desires into newer, more essential things. It also tells us how we are constantly trying to fix things in our life – as if broken things don’t teach us anything about ourselves.
In fact, these characters don’t feel like living and breathing organisms. The meticulously arranged mid-shots, coupled with perfect (sometimes too perfect) use of staging and blocking give their second feature film both a theatrical outline while bringing out the themes of loneliness and longing to the foreground.
One could complain that the lack of emotions shows by the characters could put a big question mark on the overall impact the film leaves on you. But, I for one, was constantly amused. The heavy lifting is mostly done by the director’s use of color, change of formation, a sudden burst of seductive energy, and even the use of props. However, it is Henriette Confurius who really holds everything together.
Her act here is quite physical. The lip blister that remains on her face throughout has reasons that are left unanswered. They rightfully give the film another layer of ambiguity. Her seductive, obsessive eyes give Mara both a sort of demonic stance and an empathetic one. It is a strange ground that the directors walk on but mostly, they manage to glide effortlessly.
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Pretty much like its title, “The Girl and the Spider” is a culmination of stories told with a special penance for how people react to them. This is a film that hides its longing and loneliness within slight gazes. It is a story about change told through an uncompromisingly original, tantalizing, and opaque narrative that curiously moves like a dancer doing their best bit.
With only their second feature, the German filmmaking duo has established themselves as a unique voice in the indie circuit. With the limited scope of how their stories unravel, the directors have just invented a strange robot-like world for themselves. It is a world that makes you feel its many motions, in spite of the few wordless timescapes offered.
‘THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER’ PREMIERED AT THE 2021 BERLINALE
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DIRECTOR(s)/SCREENWRITER(s): Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher
MUSIC: Philipp Moll
DOP: Alex Haßkerl
RUNTIME: 98 MINUTES
LINKS: IMDB, ROTTEN TOMATOES