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Sleeper of the Week: ‘The Strange Little Cat’

Sleeper of the Week: 'The Strange Little Cat'

Nobody sees everything, but Criticwire is here to point out films that might get lost otherwise. Sleeper of the Week takes a film that a only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“The Strange Little Cat”
Dir: Ramon Zurcher
Criticwire Average: A-

“Quirky debut feature” is usually a big warning sign for a film, and “quirky debut feature shot for a film seminar” is a cue to run for the hills. Ramon Zurcher’s “The Strange Little Cat,” then, is an odd bird indeed, a film that uses its discursive elements as the narrative (so to speak) rather than digressions from it. The film found warm reception while tourin the festival circuit last year, and it just premiered in New York’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center.

The film deals with a mother (Jenny Schily) who’s clearly troubled about something, but it’s much more about its own arrythmic movements, off-kilter compositions and bizarre non sequiters (whenever someone turns on the coffee machine, the daughter character screams at the top of her lungs). Rather than coming off as tiresome randomness, it’s an invitingly weird concoction, largely because Zurcher handles it all with such a light touch. If this is what he can accomplish in a 72-minute student feature, his next film could be a major event.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club

Ramon Zürcher’s miniature debut, “The Strange Little Cat,” is one of the most confident and unusual first features in recent memory. It’s also one of the most aptly titled; its perspective—intimate, but removed, and often as intrigued by what’s just off-camera as by the action on-screen—seems ineffably feline. Organized around oblique and sometimes mismatched angles, with every composition suggesting a torn-off piece of some larger map, the movie invests its cramped setting—a middle-class Berlin apartment, seen over the course of an afternoon and evening—with suspense, absurdist humor, and a wholly authentic sense of hectic, disorderly family life. Writer-director-editor-sound-designer Zürcher is a rigorous formalist with a light, humane touch—a seeming contradiction in terms, though fitting for the director of such a paradoxical little movie. Read more.

Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

Shooting from counterintuitive angles, Mr. Zürcher intensifies our familiarity with the space. Something as simple as a game of Connect Four becomes a source of suspense. Viewed one way, “The Strange Little Cat” is a movie about the constancy of home life against the passage of time. The mother (Jenny Schily) grows wistful looking at Clara’s misspelled shopping list after Karin, who no longer lives there, reminds her that she used to save the children’s scraps. The dictation-challenged Clara transcribes her father’s high blood pressure readings. Disruptions to the calm — notably a bursting light bulb — have the impact of major events. Read more.

Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

It’s the union of the completely bizarre with the utterly banal that keeps our attention, even after the lack of plot or arc might have otherwise made us tune out. In fact, unlike many puzzles that tease solutions but never deliver, here the film becomes more engaging as time goes on, so that by the end our attention was unexpectedly rapt. Perhaps it is because, on that instantaneous level, the film (to us anyway; it’s a very subjective thing) is strangely joyous and warm—they are all so complicit in each other’s weirdness. In fact, in this mini-universe that refers only to itself (imagine a non-creepy “Dogtooth”), it’s the viewer who’s the weirdo, trying to apply patterns that simply don’t fit, onto a system that abides by its own unseen logic instead. Read more.

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

But “The Strange Little Cat” shouldn’t be defined entirely by what is isn’t. Here’s what it is: a beautiful, mysterious, beguiling cinematic doodle, and an absolute master class in mise-en-scene, unfolding in odd, fragmented frames and precisely choreographed movement within those frames. Zürcher has talked about the film being about family, but he doesn’t overreach by trying, within the space of a day and night, to tell the audience everything it needs to know about his characters. It would be impossible, in that time frame, for outside observers to pick up all that information, and Zürcher is keenly aware of it. So he contents himself instead with merely getting a sense of the dynamic of a particularly hectic day. Within the limits it sets for itself, “The Strange Little Cat” is a sophisticated, high-functioning organism. Read more.

Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice

The words “student film” can strike terror in the bravest of hearts, but fear not “The Strange Little Cat.” Made by filmmaker Ramon Zürcher while he was still attending the German Film and Television Academy, this odd little wonder captures the delicate textures and shadowy half-secrets of family life, mapping them out in a mosaic of fragmented dialogue and half-poetic, half-prosaic images. Read more.

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