Directors Ramon and Silvan Zürcher join us on Close-Up Culture ahead of the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. Their film, The Girl And The Spider, follows two long-time friends and flatmates whose lives are thrown-up in the air when one of them decides to move out.
You are returning to Berlinale after the success of ‘The Strange Little Cat’ in 2013. What does it mean to you to screen your films at this prestigious festival?
Ramon: It’s a great honour, of course, to be selected by the programming team and to have the opportunity to premiere our film at the Berlinale. As Berlin means home to us, it is also nice to share this moment with our friends and colleagues.
Silvan: And since Berlinale is one of the most attended festivals and film markets worldwide, it’s an ideal starting point for the further journey of the film. Here, it might get more attention than somewhere else.
The need for closeness and the pain of separation are universal experiences, but I imagine they’ve been felt even more potently by people during the pandemic. What interested you both about exploring these feelings in ‘The Girl And The Spider’?
Silvan: Ramon and me, we lived together for a few years, before Ramon moved to another place in 2014. It’s when I started to develop the story of the film. We are identical twins and back then, we broke up a symbiotic unity, what provoked very bipolar emotions. In a way, these emotions grounded the themes of the film and the psychological design of the characters. It was all way before COVID started to spread. But you’re right, now, with the experience of the pandemic and the lockdowns, these themes get further dimensions, as the desire for connection among people might have risen because of the isolation-policies.
The film has been described as a “tragicomic catastrophe film” and “a poetic panopticon of forms of human relationships, that meanders between a study of everyday life, a fairy-tale and a psychological portrait of a brittle world.” Can you give us more insight into the tone of the film and the atmosphere you wanted to create?
Ramon: Even though it is a very simple everday-situation the film deals with (i.e. one character moves from one place to another), we wanted to articulate existential human topics. The tone ranges from joyful and light-footed to melancholic, tense and nightmarish. It’s a borderline cosmos: People are tender in one moment, yet surprisingly cruel in another one. It’s not a comedy nor dramatic all the time, but shifting in its mood. For us, this captures reality in a more appropriate way – as human beings aren’t just darlings or just monsters, but more complexly designed.
The film is the second instalment in a trilogy about human togetherness. How do you view ‘The Girl And The Spider’ in relation to the first film in the trilogy?
Ramon: We didn’t plan to make a trilogy in advance, but only later discovered that the three films are “siblings”. In The Strange Little Cat, the once wild animal stands for the domesticated family life, frozen in constraints, which is perceived as a prison, especially for the mother. In The Girl And The Spider, the spider stands for a free, independent animal that can create a new home anywhere it wants to. A temporary and fragile home, but one that can be rebuilt again and again. The spider’s web then remains as a trace that articulates transience, which is an essential topic of the film.
In The Sparrow In The Chimney, the third instalment, birds, butterflies and fireflies are omnipresent. Animals that can fly around freely. But before that, the sparrow of the title must be set free from the chimney, rebel against rules. So The Sparrow is mainly about rebellion. It is a war film, set within a family. It is more explosive than its predecessors.
Silvan: Also, the journey of the trilogy is a journey from a kind of statics to movement. If The Cat was the portrait of a static, even solidified state, in The Spider things break up and start moving. In The Sparrow a transformation happens from the solidified to the new, liberated, to the utopian.
Unlike in The Cat, in The Spider we incorporated surrealistic and horror-like elements and the extent will even be bigger in The Sparrow. The Spider also has a wider range than The Cat in these regards: It has more characters, more time (i.e. two days, in The Cat it was only one day, whereas in The Sparrow it will be three days – which is rather a coincidence than a concept) and also spatially there’s a bigger radius.
What led you to cast Henriette Confurius?
Ramon: Henriette has a great sensitivity, yet she is not weak, but strong and does have intense eyes, an insisting gaze. I liked this combination. I was also looking for an actress that doesn’t articulate “a crisis-like state” by her looks alone, by her appearance already. I found it more interesting that these aspects can be discovered by the audience during the film, without already expecting them from the start. And last but not least, it was of course her acting and how she interpreted the casting scenes that convinced me.
What energy did Henriette bring to her character and the project more generally?
Ramon: Henriette did bring a sensitivity to Mara, her character. We could also have casted Mara with a less sensitive actress, but I liked that the violent, sometimes mean gestures of Mara are contrasted with Henriette’s vulnerability. I find this combination more interesting. And to the team and project in general it was a certain tranquility and serenity, that she brought, that was very agreeable to work with.
Silvan was a producer on ‘The Strange Little Cat’ but this time is a writer on the project. Can you talk about your collaboration on this ‘The Girl And The Spider’ and the working dynamic between the two of you?
Silvan: We don’t have a determined set of rules or a recipe of how we work together. It depends from project to project. Here for the first time, it was me that wrote the first draft of the script and then we started to co-write. This wasn’t always easy, because sometimes there was a diffusion of responsibility. So we learned that for us it is better to have a clear division of labour. During the shoot, it was Ramon working with the actors and I worked as assistant director. But we were both equally artistically involved throughout the whole process. And even though we’re identical twins we do have different conceptions of things and different preferences too, of course. We then just discuss them, which is very productive in the end.
Did you both have similar filmic interests and passions growing up, or are you different in that sense?
Ramon: Our filmic interests have always been pretty similar, growing up. But the talents did differ. Actually I have been better in drawing and painting than Silvan, for instance, whereas he was better in languages and mathematics. Later I studied art and he went in rather theoretical directions, philosophy, film theory and German literature. But even though we studied different things, our interests stayed pretty much the same.
What are your hopes for the film at Berlinale and beyond?
Silvan: Well, of course we hope that the film will be well received and that the audience will feel addressed by the film – that they can connect to aspects of the characters, to the topics. And beyond Berlinale it would be great of course if the film would be further shown around the world. That we can share it and a lot of people get the chance to see it. That’s what all filmmakers wish for.