Berlinale 2021 review: The Girl and the Spider (Ramon Zürcher)

In line with the tone of its title, everything in The Girl and the Spider has the feel of a tale: its location in space (a city somewhere in German-speaking Switzerland) and time (over the course of a weekend, sometime during the summer), and its use of bright colors to catch our eye and establish connections between the background and the clothes of the characters. During the lengthy opening sequence for instance, the eyes and sweater of Mara (Henriette Confurius), one of the two protagonists of the story, match almost exactly the color of the walls of the apartment where someone is moving in. Hence we are led to believe that Mara is the one moving in, as she seems to blend in so perfectly with the place; but Mara is really the one being left behind, as it is her roommate – and probably more than this in her heart – Lisa (Liliane Amuat) who is moving out of their flat and into this new place of her own.

This choice of topic (changing one’s place of living, and by doing so changing one’s life) also contributes to taking the film away from naturalist storytelling and into the territory of symbolic tales. In fact, The Girl and the Spider often seems on the verge of becoming too heavy-handed in this aspect by adding too many layers of symbolism to its scenes. And yet the movie never lets go of its grip on us, because what it reaches for deep inside human nature regarding our fears is too powerful and true. These are fears of unreciprocal longing leading to our being discarded, feeling like we dissolve from the view and affection of others, or of our inability to grasp the way the world goes around. This seemingly simple account of moving out and moving in opens the door to enduring and weighty reflections about absence and presence, and what it is that makes or unmakes human connections and ultimately a society. Here this society is mostly composed of women, as the few men present are relegated to supporting status in the film.

Swiss twin brothers Ramon and Silvan Zürcher (the former is credited as director, the latter as first assistant director, and both as co-writers) ensure that there is always a lot going on in the frame, in order to give us this constant feeling of micro societies materializing in every situation. They reinforce it by having people relating memories, which become stories and feel like dreams, just like maybe this whole concept of community and social bond is. Or it might be the fact that we so strongly lack it at the moment, due to the pandemic. As one character puts it, there seems to be “a secret force that holds everything together“; and perhaps, if we fall outside of the field of this force, we become ghosts, forgotten and broken. At the core of The Girl and the Spider is this idea that things break easily (they do so throughout the film) but humans break more definitely. Thus, while the children that are shown in the film are the only permanently joyous ones thanks to their yet intact innocence, we as adults share the fear expressed in the tale inside the tale, told by Mara to Lisa to try and convey her torment to her. She is to stay caught in a spider’s web, although the spider has gone away, never to come back.