Ramon and Silvan Zurcher on the Controlled Chaos of Shooting Berlin Encounters Player ‘The Girl and the Spider’

It’s been eight years since twin brother directing duo Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s “The Strange Little Cat” caught the eye of audiences around the world, playing at major festivals in Turkey, India, Argentina, Portugal and beyond. The pair has finally returned, this time to Berlin, where their second feature of a trilogy on human togetherness, “The Girl and the Spider,” screens in the Encounters section.

Spread out across six small apartments and the micro-community which resides there, “The Girl and the Spider” turns primarily on Lisa, moving out, and her roommate Mara, left behind. As furniture is disassembled and reassembled, painting touched up and possessions divided, the future of several relationships hang in the balance as emotions swing to opposite extremes and loyalties are established and broken.

“The Girl and the Spider” is co-produced by Switzerland’s Beauvoir Film and the brother’s own label Zurcher Film. Dubai-based indie specialist Cercamon is handling international sales, and has an impressive slate at this year’s EFM including “The Dawn,” “Paper Spiders” and “What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?”

Ramon and Silvan spoke with Variety about the virtual festival experience, injecting color into independent filmmaking and why animals add so much to a shoot.

Your first feature “Strange Little Cat” also featured at Berlin. Obviously, this year will be different, but I wonder if you could talk a bit about that experience, and what’s different coming back this time? What did you learn from that experience that will influence your travels (virtually or real) with “The Girl and the Spider”?

Ramon: With “The Strange Little Cat” at the Berlinale in 2013 it was the first time that public attention was focused on one of our films. So, it was a bit of a shock, though a positive one. This time we will be more prepared.

Silvan: As the set-up of the festival will be completely different this year because of COVID-19, it will still be a premiere, but a virtual one, which of course is a pity. But everyone is trying to make the best of the situation.

Can you talk a bit about the dynamic of your work relationship and how the labor is divided between you?

Ramon: It is different from project to project. Here Silvan wrote the first draft and from then on, we co-wrote for the first time. During the shoot, it was me working with the actors while Silvan worked as assistant director. We were both equally artistically involved. 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.

I think one of the aspects of this film which endures long after watching it is the incredible color pallet. How did you develop the look for this film, and how important was it to feel so vibrant?

Silvan: It was an early choice to have rich colors. Sometimes it feels as if arthouse was limited to a reduced color palette and that only mainstream films can have lush, bright colors. Even though “The Spider” is not a comedy, we felt like contrasting the dramatic aspects of the film by cheerful colors.

Ramon: And we were inspired by the use of colors in the films of Eric Rohmer, too.

How was production affected by COVID-19? This film feels almost claustrophobic at times with so many people in a small area, it’s quite a change from the world we’re experiencing now.

Silvan: We shot in the summer of 2019, so we weren’t disturbed by COVID. It was only later, during post-production, when things became difficult because of the pandemic. Mostly the color grading was affected, because the DoP, Berlin-based A. Hasskerl, couldn’t come to Bern, Switzerland, where this work has been done. So, we had to build up a remote set-up, which wasn’t a good solution at all. So later in 2020 we reunited to continue this process all together in Berlin.

I see you constructed the apartments yourself in a large empty space in a brewery. What challenges, and equally what advantages did that provide during shooting?

Ramon: The challenge was that we had to determine every little detail of the rooms, which was very time consuming in the preparation. Then it also was a challenge to make the shooting schedule, because we shot the six different flats of the film in only two different studio-constructions, that served as room-skeletons that changed their appearance and function like chameleons. We had to shoot all the scenes of flat A, before it was transformed to flat B etc.

Silvan: A huge advantage was that we had more time to shoot, as time hasn’t been consumed by moving from one original location to another.

How did the relationship with Beauvoir Films come about?

Silvan: It was in 2017. Before that we tried to finance the film in Germany, which didn’t work. So, we tried our best in Switzerland. We got in touch with Aline Schmid from Beauvoir and it turned out to be a lucky collaboration.

There are a lot of animals weaving their way around this film, and I wonder if you could talk about the role animals played in “The Girl and the Spider”? 

Ramon: We do like the contrast between control and chaos. On one side, our style is driven by control: Static camera, precise staging of the actors, the props etc. Animals are not as controllable, they tend to be a chaotic element in this cosmos. We like to create a controlled chaos.

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