Encounters with Fontana and the Zürchers

Fabrizio Rongione, Juan Trench, and Stéphanie Cléau in Andreas Fontana’s Azor (2021)

In February 2013, word began crisscrossing Potsdamer Platz, the hub of the Berlinale in any year but this one: Be sure to catch The Strange Little Cat. Ramon Zürcher, thirty at the time and assisted by his twin brother Silvan, had written and directed a strange little movie, most of it confined to a single apartment on a single day in which a family prepares to have relatives over for dinner. The minimal story was practically irrelevant. The Strange Little Cat was above all a showcase for a fresh and unique style.

Zürcher’s camera remained steady while compositions within each shot wouldn’t exactly flow but rather shift as family members, seeing to their assigned tasks, bending around and bumping into each other, their bodies filling most of each frame, moved from one just-so position to the next. The soundtrack was just as busy. A toy helicopter might buzz toward that last spot of empty space in an upper corner, whizzing by a young girl screaming out a sustained high note. Zürcher had turned domesticity into a modest spectacle—with a hint of claustrophobia. “The medium shot is to Zürcher what the two-shot is to Hong Sangsoo,” writes Carson Lund at Slant, “a default formal strategy from which any and all deviations seem purposeful.”

Few could have expected that we would wait eight years for a follow-up. It would be tempting but overly simplistic to say that everything is doubled in The Girl and the Spider, whose action, taking place over two days rather than one, zigs and zags between two apartments. Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is moving from one to the other, and the roommate she’s leaving behind, Mara (Henriette Confurius), seethes with resentment. She surreptitiously cuts a gash in the new kitchen counter and finds a creative way to have bright red juice spill from a table to the floor.

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