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The Strange Little Cat pulls off a tone arguably never before delivered on film: gentle and playful from its first moment to last, yet maintaining a sustained, indescribable air of eerie tension hanging thick in the air throughout. Set in a Berlin apartment on a sunny afternoon, a compact domestic scene soon bustles with activity as food is prepared, plans are made, and extended family arrive. People, objects, and pets move in and out of the frame with a visual sensibility that owes something to Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman, yet with a lighter touch and sense of surprise all its own.
Director Ramon Zürcher conceived this film as a sort of moving-image sculpture—but if that sounds dry, the results are anything but, delivering both brisk visual pleasure and ample moments of accessible humor. It’s also perhaps worth mentioning that this project was developed in part through a workshop with retired filmmaker Béla Tarr, and so may be of special interest to his fans—although it’s to the credit of both Tarr and Zürcher that The Strange Little Cat looks and feels nothing like a Tarr film, except in that it masterfully realizes its very idiosyncratic goals.
A standout at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, The Strange Little Cat is both a filmmaker’s film and a highly enjoyable treat for audiences. It reminds us that are no limits to what film can express—indeed, there are as many potential modes of cinema as there are facets to the human personality. Happily, this is one of the freshest new modes of cinematic expression to emerge in some time. (Eric Allen Hatch)