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BERLINALE 2021 Encounters

Ramon Zürcher and Silvan Zürcher • Directors of The Girl and the Spider

“Our style, in a way, is determined by control, but there’s also this beauty in chaos”

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- BERLINALE 2021: We spoke to the Swiss directors about their oblique, witty psychological drama, on the eve of its premiere in the Encounters competition

Ramon Zürcher and Silvan Zürcher  • Directors of The Girl and the Spider
Ramon (left) and Silvan Zürcher

The Girl and the Spider [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ramon Zürcher and Silvan Zü…
film profile
]
opens with a computer screen point-of-view shot of an architectural layout, complete with bobbing cursor, before switching to its main location – the real-life apartment space represented in that plan. As we spoke, these transfers between virtual and real space were very much on the minds of twins Ramon and Silvan Zürcher, who are excited to finally present their second feature to the world in the Berlinale’s Encounters section after experiencing such international recognition with The Strange Little Cat [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ramon Zürcher
film profile
]
back in 2013. The feature is attributed to them both – “a film by Ramon & Silvan Zürcher” – but Ramon is the main director, whilst Silvan is credited as co-director and producer.

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Cineuropa: Was this a challenging film to finance and get into production?
Silvan Zürcher:
Because it was our first project outside of an academy [film school], we’re not so good at talking about what’s normal and what’s not, because it’s our first time in this field. We first tried to get the film financed in Germany; it was pretty difficult because the logic in Germany is such that the TV channels are important for others to then jump on board to finance it as well. We then tried our best in Switzerland, where it’s more liberal in the way they finance a movie – for instance, it’s not so crucial to first have a TV channel on board, and then the rest. There are also other paths that one can follow, so in Switzerland we got lucky with this production company, Beauvoir Films, and Aline Schmid, whom we found was a great partner for this.

Could you discuss the thinking and inspiration behind your unique directorial style? Watching it, it seems very choreographed and pre-planned, but gives a vivid sense of reality. You have previously described it as “static-camera, dynamic mise-en-scène.”
Ramon Zürcher:
Exactly. That was one of the main principles underpinning the form, language and aesthetic. One of our first thoughts when dealing with the girl’s situation [the lead character Mara] was to use a static camera. Writing The Girl and the Spider, it wasn’t a conscious, conceptual thought that it and The Strange Little Cat were like relatives or siblings. Rather, in the process of writing, it was then that we decided that there would be a trilogy; that trilogy will have formal similarities, it will deal with certain subjects. Our intuition kind of led us to that. The first two films are very static, but in the third part, The Sparrow and the Chimney, we would like to work with a dolly or a moving camera because it’s about the journey from static portraits to the empowerment of the characters.

Why did you decide to make the jobs and deeper backgrounds of the characters so ambiguous? It seems like Mara has an artistic skill of some kind. On the other hand, the ambiguity and obliquity that the film is trying to engender is intriguing.
SZ: What we enjoy when watching films is when they’re not too predictable. We like characters but also plots that lead you to places that you don’t foresee at the beginning, which surprise you. Talking about ambiguity, with me, for instance, what I like are characters that don’t have one specific trait: they may be kind to others, but they could also incorporate monstrous or cruel sides. Regarding the fairly static character of Mara, there’s a lot happening around her that doesn’t really affect her, so she becomes a bit autistic, in a way. So we have a static character, and around her, the world is falling apart. The unities are breaking up, there is damage, and there are other characters that are inherently more vivid or dynamic. It’s a whole universe of these dynamics and opposing forces. Our style, in a way, is determined by control – for instance, our controlled character movements, or the way the props are staged – but there’s also this beauty in chaos.

Are you eager to return to the older manner of film exhibition and distribution, with its privileging of the theatrical release, or are you accepting of how the pandemic is likely to change the film industry going forward?
RZ: Yes, I do feel that nostalgia, and maybe also sadness, because of the cinema – which is like a black box. You’re not at home, where there can be distractions and food and things like that; it’s a space for concentration, providing that beautiful canvas. I very much hope to go back, once it is possible to enjoy those situations again. When movies are streamed, it’s on a small screen – I often wonder if the very aesthetics of film could change because of this.

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