In their second feature film, The Girl and the Spider, Swiss brothers Ramon and Silvan Zürcher continue to explore the themes and style that they displayed in their debut, The Strange Little Cat (2013). The Zürcher style centers around ordinary, everyday moments strung together by an organized chaos of human movement, challenging the viewer to spy something fascinating in the otherwise banal. A similar vibe is present in The Girl and the Spider, a film that bypasses plot in favor of carefully choreographed human interactions, some for just a moment, and some that linger just long enough to be uncomfortable.
Unease seems to be the name of the game in The Girl and the Spider, as we first meet Mara, played by Henriette Confurius, who is watching her roommate, Lisa, played by Liliane Amuat, move out of their apartment. The exact type of relationship Mara and Lisa share is unclear, but what is clear is that Mara is not exactly pleased with Lisa’s leaving, so she finds little ways to reveal her unhappiness, like scaring the dog or breaking something. The audience is never sure of what either Mara or Lisa are feeling, as we are instead swept up in the near-constant movements that swirl around them, as the apartment is filled with family members, handymen, friends, neighbors and animals who all wander in and out of the apartment like ants, each one with a purpose and a destination.
In place of any legitimate plot, The Girl and the Spider instead spins its web by giving each character that appears on screen their own story, as different interactions color personality and moments reveal motivation. Even the dog and cat have their own character traits, one constantly jumping up and stealing something from the counter when no one is looking, and the other slipping out an open door at any opportunity to escape upstairs to the lonely old lady’s apartment, where a warm, quiet bed and treats await.
It is in the human behaviors, though, where this film does the majority of its exploring. Character traits are revealed in short bursts, wry comments, and many, many lingering glances. Everyone steals looks at each other as if we are privy to a deep and textured history between them, which we aren’t, so we are left to imagine for ourselves what each look says and means. When they do speak, they speak in riddles or long anecdotes, intercut with symbolic visual cues and repeated references to physical objects. Those physical objects, such as feathers, fur, insects, cigarette ashes, spilled wine and even plants, seem to take on personality traits of their own, playing their own part in this circus of life that we play witness to.
The Girl and the Spider is a contemplation of human interaction and behavior that may confuse more than it clarifies, but the swirling cacophony of characters is supremely engaging, thanks to the uniformly appealing performances and the brisk pace that complements the film’s overall meandering vibe. The audience feels literally like a fly on the wall, watching life murmur and move all around them. The wonderful music by Philipp Moll punctuates each new chapter with a jaunty, appealing melody, signaling to the audience that one stanza of the poem has just concluded and another is about to begin.
Not exactly an art film per se, The Girl and the Spider is most certainly unconventional and its lack of a traditional narrative structure may confuse some, but for those who are looking for a film that challenges perception and comments mightily on the transitory and often neurotic nature of human connection, then The Girl and the Spider may just be for you.
This review is from AFI FEST. The Cinema Guild is managing the U.S. release of the film, which currently is undated.