“The Girl and the Spider” Steeped in Ambiguity

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Lisa (Liliane Amuat) and Mara (Henriette Confurius) in “The Girl and the Spider”

A delicate film, “The Girl and the Spider” feels so wispy it might just float away, like the feathers that are seen throughout this low-key Swiss drama. The film goes for sly and observant, and writers/directors Ramon and Silvan Zürcher may think that means profound, but it also means pretentious. This is one of those quotidian films where not much actually happens, but supposedly everything happens. It is subtle to the point of being obtuse.

Lisa (Liliane Amuat) is moving out of the apartment she has shared with Mara (Henriette Confurius). How long they have been living together is not mentioned, nor is the reason Lisa has decided to move. But it is clear that Mara is forlorn. There is the suggestion of unrequited love — look at how Mara watches Lisa — but Mara also has contempt. She does not lift so much as a finger to help with the move, and she actually causes damage, spilling coffee and breaking a photo, among other mischief, as Lisa and others clear out the shared apartment. A scene of the two young women touching hands as they pass a spider between them conveys their intimacy, but their dialogue later in the film hints at their bottled-up hostilities.

“The Girl and the Spider” is deliberately ambiguous about most things, which allows viewers to make their own interpretations of the characters and their relationships. But while less is often more, here, it can be too little. Lisa’s mother, Astrid (Ursina Lardi) seems to eye Mara with suspicion, pointing out Mara’s cold sore, and suggesting that Lisa shouldn’t kiss her lest she’ll get herpes. Astrid flirts with Jurek (André Hennicke), a handyman who is helping out, and their chat about a broken window is a coded discussion of love and care, attention and affection.

But the film is larded with stories that imply what the characters are really thinking and feeling. Astrid tells a peculiar anecdote about a down jacket Lisa once wore and how she believed a bird died for every feather she pulled out. A corrupted PDF is discussed, as is a shortcut that made a death cross in an email. There are dreams recounted about a massage and a bad smell, or a dream that Astrid recalls about fearing that her hair would fall out while she was pregnant, so she cut it off and made a wig. (The wig, now dyed electric blue, gets worn by various characters; insert symbolic meaning here.) And then there is a story about a chambermaid and her piano. The filmmaker cuts to the chambermaid on a ship from time to time, but it seems unnecessary.

The imagery can be arresting at times. A woman on a rooftop during a rainstorm is interesting, as is a shot of a topless woman wearing a motorcycle helmet. In one scene, a woman traces her finger along the naked body of a man she slept with, his flaccid penis prominently displayed. But the money shot seems to be Kerstin (Dagna Litzenberger-Vinet), a neighbor, spewing liquid out of her chin, having removed her facial piercing. The shots are all artfully composed, but they fail to generate much emotion. The filmmakers favor having people working or moving things and walking in and out of the frame as characters converse or stare off into space, which grows tedious.

One of the few dramatic moments occurs when Jan (Flurin Giger) has a chat with Mara. He is attracted to her, and she is aware of this, but she is absolutely cruel towards him. Again, her behavior may stem from her longing for Lisa, but it is all unspoken.

Confurius is captivating in part because she is the film’s most compelling character — and not just because she is the most developed. The way she looks and moves allows viewers to sense what she is thinking. Most of the large supporting cast, with the exception of Astrid, Kerstin, and Jan, barely register. In fact, viewers may lose track of who is who as more characters are introduced. (Two kids run around just because, it seems).

The co-directors are likely unconcerned with such details. They are simply eavesdropping on these two young women as they experience growing pains and confront change. The film invites viewers to observe and appreciate this brief but significant juncture in the characters’ lives. Nevertheless, “The Girl and the Spider” is lovely and so gentle that it is just plain dull.

“THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER” | Directed by Ramon Zürcher and Silvan Zürcher. Opening April 8 at the Metrograph and Film at Lincoln Center. Distributed by Cinema Guild.           

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