Bonus points should be awarded to the Swiss-born, Berlin-based director and video artist Ramon Zürcher for inserting a cat both in the title and in the plot of his debut feature. Not that the lovely ginger tabby, or his "strangeness", are particularly central to The Strange Little Cat; they're more an embodiment, or a symbol, of the neatly, inventively compact quirkiness of a film whose real focus is the dynamics at work over the day of a family reunion to celebrate a relative's birthday.

     The cat isn't any stranger than every other member of the Berlin household where he resides; in fact, everyone in this tightly composed debut is slightly "off" even though Mr. Zürcher never shows anything other than perfectly regular day-to-day events. The Strange Little Cat never bothers overly with plot or character, preferring instead to focus on mood and detail, observing patiently within the four walls of the second-floor flat where everything takes place and from where everything is shot (with a couple of exceptions). The director's eye-level set-ups, precise and functional, create the idea of an almost entomological study of people being observed in their "natural habitats", suggesting a "pressure cooker" environment.

     This is where the "strange little cat" comes up again, his apparently casual flitting between rooms and moments, always present at both the banal and the remarkable events of the day, underlining the fact that nearly everyone in this household will, at some point during the day, feel hemmed in by emotional dynamics and cramped surroundings. Occasionally, there will be a brief, fleeting moment of freedom that Alexander Haßkerl's camera records as if trapped in amber, and that is precisely what Mr. Zürcher aims at. Some have pointed out a possible influence of the great deadpan, purely visual burlesque of stylists such as Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati, but this comes entirely out of the fact that, rather than written, directed or staged, The Strange Little Cat is precisely and exactingly choreographed, with all of the family moving in and out of the frame as if they're following their own rhythm.

     For all of that, this ingenious achievement remains an ultimately inscrutable film (just as our feline friends, strange or not, are in fact) and one that never really makes you forget its essence as a school project - Mr. Zürcher's final "term paper", produced under the supervision of Hungarian master Bela Tárr. And yes, it's quite a calling card.

Germany 2013
72 minutes
Cast: Jenny Schily, Anjorka Strechel, Mia Kasalo, Luk Pfaff, Matthias Dittmer, Armin Marewski, Leon Alan Beiersdorf, Sabine Werner, Kathleen Morgeneyer, Monika Hetterle, Gustav Körner, Lea Draeger
Director, screenwriter and editor Ramon Zürcher; cinematographer Alexander Haßkerl (colour); designers Matthias Werner and Sabine Kassebaum; costumes Dorothée Bach; producers Silvan Zürcher, Johanna Bergel and Myriam Eichler, German Film and Television Academy Berlin
Screened November 9th 2013 (Lisbon Estoril & Film Festival 2013 advance screener, Lisbon) 


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