REVIEW: Das Mädchen und die Spinne [The Girl and the Spider] [2021]

Rating: 9 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 98 minutes
    Release Date: July 8th, 2021 (Germany) / April 8th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Edition Salzgeber / The Cinema Guild
    Director(s): Ramon Zürcher & Silvan Zürcher
    Writer(s): Ramon Zürcher & Silvan Zürcher

But you had tears in your eyes.

Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is moving apartments and the building’s children who have come to know her as a friend and companion ask her remaining roommate Mara (Henriette Confurius) whether she’ll still visit. The latter says that she will, but we know the truth is more than likely that she won’t. It won’t be out of malice or even conscious for that matter. It’s just what happens as life carries on. We find ourselves embroiled in new situations with new people and we gradually let those from our past disappear. But there’s no use telling the kids that. They’ll adapt and perhaps even forget Lisa was ever there once a new person moves in. The one who will remember is Mara and that reality is nothing short of devastating.

So, while Ramon Zürcher and Silvan Zürcher‘s latest film Das Mädchen und die Spinne [The Girl and the Spider] hinges on an event catalyzed by Lisa, it’s Mara who serves as its lead. It’s her world being turned upside down with emotional and psychological ramifications. It’s a lot to endure too despite taking place over a two-day move from one flat to the other. Memories, betrayals, longing, and frustrations all rear their head once the number of people increases exponentially. There’s Lisa’s mother (Ursina Lardi‘s Astrid), the handyman (André Hennicke‘s Jurek), his assistant (Flurin Giger‘s Jan), Lisa and Mara’s other roommate (Ivan Georgiev‘s Markus), new neighbors (Sabine Timoteo‘s Karen), old neighbors (Dagna Litzenberger-Vinet‘s Kerstin and Lea Draeger‘s Nora), and a collection of dogs, cats, and spiders.

Where so many similar stories pivot towards “new beginnings,” the Zürchers very consciously present their version as an end. We see it in the way Mara looks at Lisa, desperate to get her to show some sign that this was a difficult decision rather than cause for celebration. She’s constantly trying to make her smile and recollect beautiful moments fresh on her mind only to watch her focus on what needs packing instead. Mara barely helps (if she does at all), her slow movements from room to room proving more of a means for us to catch glimpses of flirtations and confusion than to watch her participating in the day’s labor. She’s struggling to cope not because their union is dissolving, but because Lisa doesn’t seem to mind.

The only person who understands the heavy loss Mara feels is Astrid. And why not? Lisa left her first, right? Almost every scene ends with a character on-screen catching the eye of someone off-screen, the camera cutting to the latter to show a smile or scowl depending on what they approve of or empathetically understand. The best of these arrives when Mara is left bearing her soul as Astrid looks on with a pained and heartfelt expression of recognition upon Lisa leaving the room. It’s those unspoken glances, subtle grins, and piercing stares (Lisa is having none of her mother’s flirtations with Jurek) that ultimately bind these characters together as their dialogue and actions form a sort of dance bridging past and future together in this shared present.

And those bridges are long. Some, perhaps, impossibly so. Because alongside those we meet are also those we view from afar like a coffeeshop employee across the street that gazes at them from the window and a former tenant known only as the “housemaid” who left her piano before setting off to work on a cruise ship. One is tangible. She’s there below them, working away. The other isn’t—our brief travels to her folding towels on customers’ beds as much a fantastical hypothetical as it is an honest act performed. Some people become split in half with one foot in each possibility like Mrs. Arnold longingly stroking the fur left on her bedspread by the neighbor’s cat and dancing on the roof at night in the rain.

It’s that dreamlike quality that makes the Zürchers’ work (their previous film, The Strange Little Cat, is almost as good) so memorable and resonant because it allows the performances to shine above plot—the just left of center reality allowing the actors to exist inside their heads as much as out. To therefore see Mara attempting to engage with Lisa is to see more than just a roommate sad to see the other go. There’s passion there. Maybe it’s platonic. Maybe it’s more, unrequited or not. Love and lust overlap throughout as joy and longing allow some to exit their comfort zone just as others retreat to theirs. Add Mara’s penchant for stirring the pot with a bit of chaos and you never know what might happen next.

Who will hook up with who? Who wishes it was they who were doing it instead? Will Mara pour herself a cup of coffee to drink or intentionally spill on the neighbor’s dog? What will those animals do themselves—my favorite part of the whole being those moments when the dogs quickly grab something in-frame (like a sponge) and take it with them as they scurry away? Will the spider caught on Lisa’s back survive the day? How about the fly buzzing around? Is Nora going to get any sleep with all the noise of furniture moving? Will Karen’s baby ever stop screaming? And who won’t wish it was Mara at the center of everything rather than Lisa? Her enigmatic presence mesmerizes us and the other characters alike.

Why wouldn’t it? She’s the one willing to look into your soul as you look back. Where Lisa strives to be the center of attention, dictating and policing the actions of others, Mara leans against the wall and watches to see what everyone else craves and perhaps even pulls some strings to help them be satisfied. She draws them with precision, capturing their essence in ways they didn’t know was possible. She peers into their eyes like no one else could, daring them to make the next move. Where Lisa laments the present as an extension of the past, Mara embraces it. She champions it. Neither is right. Neither is wrong. But what started as Lisa’s leaving eventually becomes the event where she lets herself be left behind.

[1] Liliane Amuat and Henriette Confurius in Ramon & Silvan Zürcher’s THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER.
[2] Flurin Giger, Henriette Confurius and Dagna Litzenberger Vinet in Ramon & Silvan Zürcher’s THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER.
[3] Ursina Lardi, Dagna Litzenberger Vinet and Lea Draeger in Ramon & Silvan Zürcher’s THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER.

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