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.
A brother and sister (Luk Pfaff and Anjorka Strechel) have come home to their family’s Berlin flat for a visit. Their much younger sister Clara (Mia Kasalo), a self-possessed elf, practices her nascent writing skills by drawing up a shopping list; an uncle (Armin Marewski) shows up to fix the washing machine; their mother (Jenny Schily) busies herself about the kitchen, responding to her surroundings — or not — with consternation, anxiety, boredom. Later, members of the extended family will drop in for a raucous dinner.
Meanwhile, the family’s sweet black dog and hyper-purring marmalade cat weave in and out of the proceedings, and in and out of camera range. There’s a story here, though Zürcher doesn’t use conventional means to tell it: He’s more interested in the instant anthropology of small, potent images — crayon drawings, a glass of milk abandoned on a table, a moth flitting about a kitchen.
Zürcher has called The Strange Little Cat “a horror movie without any horror,” and it does have some spooky elements. But mostly, it’s an elliptical ballet choreographed to the sound of family chitchat, whirring kitchen appliances, and some very loud purring.