Swiss film “The Girl and the Spider” is deliberately opaque and ambiguous in the observation on one very mundane process for two days. When I watched it for the first time at last night, I often found myself baffled as trying to understand what is really going on between its several main characters, and I became quite impatient from time to time during my viewing. When I watched it again on the next day because I had wrong expectations due to its rather sinister title, I still found myself baffled as before, but I also came to appreciate its dry but skillful handling of mood and details, so I became a bit more relaxed than before as gathering whatever I observed and felt during my viewing.
The movie mainly revolves around two young women: Mara (Henriette Confurius) and Lisa (Liliane Amuat). As observing them and Lisa’s mother Astrid (Ursina Lardi) for a while, we come to gather that Mara and Lisa have been living together for some time, but now Lisa is moving out to some other apartment alone, and it is clear that neither Mara nor Astrid is pleased about this change, though the movie never specifies the reason at all.
As these three characters come into Lisa’s new apartment, we meet a number of other persons besides several workers employed by Lisa’s mother. The apartment still needs to be fixed and cleaned a bit more, but it is mostly clean and empty enough for Lisa to move in, and she seems to be happy to get this new place while being away from Mara and her mother.
However, it looks like there is something unresolved between her and Mara, who usually regards Lisa and others with enigmatic silence. At one point early in the film, she suddenly tells Lisa about a small personal experience she happened to have when they were spending some free time outside, and her vivid description of that moment intrigues us even though we have no idea on her motive behind it. Are she and Lisa actually more than merely close friends? If so, are they going through a sort of breakup now?
In case of Astrid, she seems to discern whatever is going on between her daughter and Mara, but she remains silent in her rather frigid appearance. Although it looks like she does not have any particularly hard feeling on Mara, we sense some distance between her and Mara. She seems to care about her daughter enough to help her moving to the new place, but their interactions signify nothing but some estrangement between them, and we come to wonder more about what really happened among these three main characters.
Meanwhile, the movie freely moves around these and several other characters as the moving process is continued. A neighbor living upstairs comes to the apartment along with her little daughter just for curiosity, and there is a little unexpected moment where we sense a bit of emotional attraction between this woman and Mara. Because there are still many other stuffs to be moved out from where they have lived together, Mara and Lisa go back there along with Lisa’s mother, and we observe how that place is also busy due to the ongoing moving process.
Mara and Lisa later hold a party there in the evening, and that is when the movie becomes a little stranger than before. As everyone invited to the party has lot of fun and drink, some of them come to feel some sexual attraction between them, and that subsequently leads to an odd moment featuring not only naked bodies but also a motorcycle helmet. In addition, we get a rather disturbing moment as the following night becomes dark and stormy, and you may wonder about whether there is any meaning on that.
All these and other things in the film are presented on the screen with a realistic sense of daily rhythm, but it occasionally slips a bit into the realms of imagination and fantasy. When Mara talks about a woman who is supposed to be the owner of a certain piano, we are not so sure about the veracity of her tale, but it is still interesting to listen to her, and this part is later developed into a little lovely moment around the end of the film.
Under directors/writers Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s competent direction, the main cast members are convincing even when their characters feel quite elusive to us. Although we do not know much about their background, their understated acting conveys to us the subtle emotional undercurrents around them, and the Zürchers also did a good job of drawing natural performances from several child performers, who often steal the show around the adult cast members whenever they enter the screen.
On the whole, “The Girl and the Spider”, which won the Best Director award when it was premiered at the Encounters program at the Berlin International Film Festival early in last year, may require a considerable amount of patience from you, but you will probably admire it once you come to accept how it is about instead of struggling to figure out what it is exactly about. Although I am not that enthusiastic about it compared to many other reviewers and critics, its adamant ambiguity still lingers on my mind, and I think it will be interesting to see what its directors, who previously made a feature film debut with “The Strange Little Cat” (2013), will do next in the future.