Berlinale 2021 Review: Ramon Zürcher and Silvan Zürcher Deliver the Time of Our Lives in “The Girl and the Spider”

“All the letters and lines looked scrambled up and it looked pretty,” marvels Mara (Henriette Confurius) in “The Girl and the Spider,” handing over the PDF for some floor plans that printed out differently than appeared on her computer. The outline will not be of any help to Lisa (Liliane Amuat), who is leaving the apartment she’s shared for years with Mara and Markus (Ivan Georgiev), but it serves a purpose in cheering up the former, who knows the move will change the nature of her relationship to Lisa and, try as she might, admits that for as many times as she tried to replicate the printer matrix mishap, it wouldn’t come out the same way twice.

This will inevitably bring a smile to those who can see the beauty in the chaos of lines on a page as well, but perhaps an even bigger one to those who saw Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s previous film “The Strange Little Cat” when the fraternal filmmaking duo attempt to pull off what Mara can not in once again finding comforting equilibrium amidst a sea of incongruous elements that shouldn’t align so pleasingly. After exploring fraught family dynamics inside a single apartment in their debut, the two have further honed an ability to throw audiences into a sensational swirl where it can feel as if the ground is always shifting beneath one’s feet in spite of staying largely confined to a single location, which is what it has to feel like for those in “The Girl and the Spider” when Lisa and Markus’ new flat shouldn’t have any major impact on any of their relationships, but the move triggers everyone involved to consider the fleeting nature of everything in their lives.

The little context that’s given upfront for the events that are about to unfold are both a shrewd way for the Zürchers to highlight the peculiarity of human instincts when even the most rational responses can appear absurd without knowing the full extent of the situation and a truly inspired path to intrigue when your own instinct is to start filling in the gaps, usually upended by what they have in store. If Lisa and Markus’ apartment appears full at first, with visits from the upstairs neighbor Karen and her daughter Eleni, not to mention their dog Kira, and Lisa’s mother Astrid while handyman Jurek and Markus’ friend Jan tend to removing moldy tiles and adjusting creaky windows, a prevailing sense of isolation sets in as you start to spend time with them, all feeling alone in their emotions as some like Astrid and Mara are prone to recall cherished memories of Lisa when they felt closer to her than they do now or neighbors such as Kerstin (Dagna Litzenberger Vinet) drop hints that the door to Lisa’s apartment is hardly the only place where they feel outside.

The feeling of impermanence is rendered quite intricately, from the abstract sounds of construction coming from afar to the physical coming and going as characters moving about in a delicate dance around the apartment, sometimes inviting confrontation or more likely doing their best to avoid it, making any connections feel precious when they seem so slippery and they are the result of so many elements both in and out of our control to line up just right. Then again, that’s exactly what the Zürchers accomplish so magically in “The Girl and the Spider,” marshalling all of the disparate elements of the filmmaking process to make time stand still enough to see it clearly.

“The Girl and the Spider” will premiere at the Berlinale Film Festival.