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The Strange Little Cat | Review

In a Word: Pulchritude

Ramon Zürcher The Strange Little Cat PosterBuried in Cannes’ most unassuming and roundly ignored sidebar, ACID (an acronym for what translates to “The Association for the Distribution of Independent Cinema”), Ramon Zürcher’s Berlin-preemed debut The Strange Little Cat was among the most assured, original, and moving films to screen on the Croisette’s 2013 batch, a feat all the more remarkable in that the picture was made by a film student. The project is bound to carry some intrigue for anyone aware of the fact that the idea for the film originated from a seminar session conducted by Béla Tarr, yet the story behind that will have to be reserved for the film’s Q&A sessions, as the decidedly un-Tarr-esque film feels nothing like the Hungarian master’s cinema – nor that of pretty much anyone else.

Contained almost entirely in the domain of a cramped German apartment, the film could be said to be essentially plotless: A mother (masterfully and melancholically portrayed by Jenny Schily) operates the kitchen, the father needs his laundry done, young kids are loud and obnoxious and never not in the way, a grandmother sleeps, dinner is prepared, siblings flirt, guests come and mingle, a moth creeps around, a cat purrs. On a couple of occasions we experience the outside world when a character recollects a minor incident from the past, such as the mother recalling a trip to the cinematheque, when the stranger sitting next to her placed his leg against hers, and because she didn’t pull her leg away quickly enough, she was awkwardly stuck in contact with him until a disruption from another neighbor allowed her to adjust herself.

That particular moment, like many others in the movie, is a microcosm of what Zürcher seems to be getting at with The Strange Little Cat: The absurdity of concomitance, the suspended intrusions of one’s personal space, and the swift hiccups in action that allow us to break from our stupor and temporarily carry on with our existence. But the movie could just as easily be stripped of all concern for ideas and taken for what it also is: A pure, visceral ballet of life as a futile attempt to establish order. In fact, a filmmaker that often comes to mind while watching Zürcher’s film (other than Jacques Tati) is Lucrecia Martel, who’s own debut, La Ciénaga is a spiritual cousin to the one in this film, both expertly depicting families in a simultaneous mode of repellence and love toward one another. (A slap to the face will just as quickly be followed by genuine amiability.)

The rhythm of this machine, often rolling along like a malfunctioning Rube Goldberg machine, is propelled on contained chaos – we’re talking a little girl (Mia Kasalo) screaming at the top of her lungs while flying a remote controlled helicopter around a small, busy kitchen while a cat chases a moth and a glass bottle mysteriously won’t stop spinning in a bowl in the sink – and part of the glue that holds it all together is the appropriation of the Thee More Shallows track “Pulchritude” for the soundtrack. The lush instrumental piece opens and closes the film, as well as being reprised several times throughout the film to mark the passage from one state of ‘doing’ to the next. The title of the track, synonymous with ‘Beautiful,’ is the most apt description imaginable for this curious and rapturous and exhausting experiment in collapsing bottled energy.

Reviewed on May 23rd at the Cannes Film Festival – ACID
72 minutes

Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)


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