The Strange Little Cat

Everything depicted is convincingly written and cleverly choreographed, but the air of the unassuming and authentic remains.
The Strange Little Cat

First-time filmmaker Ramon Zürcher trains a formal eye on an informal space in The Strange Little Cat (Das merkwürdige Kätzchen), running through the details of a day in the life of a Berlin family. Everything that fills his frame is mundane and routine, his narrative peppered with sibling banter and multi-generational skirmishes, and his imagery engrossed with pets, plastic bags and other everyday objects. Yet, there’s a probing mindset to accompany the seemingly pedestrian minutiae. Everything he brings into sight is compiled with pinpoint accuracy, no matter how average it all may seem.

Minimalistic in style and somewhat mischievous in spirit, The Strange Little Cat offers the ordinary but also affords the challenge of reassessing the obvious. A cycle of reactions is elicited: intrigue as conversation ebbs and flows around comings and goings, annoyance as bursts of noise from kitchen appliances interrupt the talk, and even disinterest as anecdotes run on too long in the way that all such tales do. All the while, the eponymous feline struts around the apartment, chasing a moth, disturbing her canine counterpart, and flitting in and around the activity and interactions.

The feature’s slightest of stories centres on the fixing of a washing machine, the preparing and sharing of a meal, and all the barely worth mentioning tasks that fill a normal Saturday – all wryly, wittily combined. An unnamed mother (Jenny Schily, Houston) retains an exterior of blank-faced calm as her home bustles with the usual domestic chaos. Her son, Simon (Luk Pfaff, TV’s Tatort), sleeps late but fetches his grandmother (Monika Hetterle, Special Unit) when needed. Her elder daughter, Karin (Anjorka Strechel, The Edge), eats oranges and taunts her younger sister Clara (Mia Kasalo, Forgotten) for her poor spelling skills.

That Zürcher conceived his debut effort at a seminar held by The Turin Horse director Béla Tarr, and that the film is loosely inspired by Franz Kafka's novella, Metamorphosis, perhaps intimates the patience and precision at play in an effort easily classed as both observational and experimental. As the day wears on, the eccentricities of the characters are revealed in their deeds and discussions, all deceptively and determinedly simple but never superficial. Each scenario abounds with modest insight, exposing the dynamics of cramped spaces, the elegance of physical cohabitation, and the way the mood of the group reacts to additions and subtractions. Everything depicted is convincingly written and cleverly choreographed, but the air of the unassuming and authentic remains, as does the feature’s perception and pertinence.

Of course, The Strange Little Cat prefers to show rather than tell, and to draw in rather than spell out. All technical flourishes are designed with this in mind: in the use of mid shots that place the viewer in the intimate midst of every chat; in the static set-up that allows its supposed subject – and the accompanying audience – to wander through at will; in the deliberate, delicate breaks from the narrative that offer single moments of dedicated focus by throwing a collection of items on to the screen. Balletic editing cycles through recurrent visuals for further emphasis, and the honeyed melodies of score by Thee More Shallows heightens the intended atmosphere of contemplation. The end result, as unorthodox as it is, is never in doubt, presenting a study of all things standard in microcosm, and providing a point to look for the extraordinary.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

That Strange Little Cat (Das merkwürdige Kätzchen)
Director: Ramon Zürcher
Germany, 2013, 72 mins

Audi Festival of German Films
Sydney: 26 March to 10 April – Chauvel Cinema & Palace Norton Street
Melbourne: 27 March to 11 April – Palace Cinema Como & Kino Cinemas
Brisbane: 28 March to 3 April – Palace Centro
Canberra: 1 April to 6 April – Palace Electric Cinema

Sarah Ward

Friday 28 March, 2014

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay