This oddity hails from early 1970s France. It’s certainly the only movie
about a tiny water spider transforming into a full-sized woman that I
know of, and deserves a look.
The 1947 story “The Water Spider,” a surreal account of
love and transformation, is one of the key works of the late French
fantasy-horror maestro Marcel Bealu (and can be found in English in the
2012 anthology UNSTUCK #2). This 1971 film adaptation (which is a.k.a.
L'ARAIGNEE D’EAU), the feature debut of Belgian filmmaker Jean-Daniel
Verhaeghe, was something of a rarity amid French cinema of the early
1970s, in which horror and fantasy-themed fare was pretty scant. That
probably explains why the film fell into immediate and long-lasting
Bernard is a writer living in a rural village who’s
become distant with his wife Catherine, who accuses him of not loving
her anymore. Frustrated, Bernard embarks on a new writing project that
may be a recollection or a fantasy.
Bernard’s account, whose events take up the remainder
of the film, begins with Bernard finding a tiny water spider in a lake
near his house. He puts the spider in a tin box and takes it home, where
he grows strangely obsessed with it. Confined to Bernard and Catherine’s
attic, the spider begins growing larger, and eventually forms itself
into a beautiful woman Bernard christens Nicky.
Bernard of course neglects Catherine, who grows
disenchanted. Nicky, meanwhile, takes to dressing up in stolen clothes,
and the smitten Bernard doesn’t discourage her. Malicious gossip begins
to spread among the villagers, and Catherine grows suspicious. She
eventually departs, leaving Bernard alone with Nicky.
One day some villagers throw stones at Bernard’s house,
breaking several windows. He retaliates by letting a sack full of feisty
cats loose in the local church, disrupting a prayer service.
Shortly thereafter Catherine returns home, where she
tries to bash Nicky’s head in with a heavy candle. The attempt fails,
forcing the women into an uneasy alliance--until Nicky catches Bernard
and Catherine having sex, which freaks her out completely...
There’s a compelling, and appropriately dreamlike,
simplicity to this film. It has a striking visual elegance, with
circular camera movements that sinuously wind around characters and
objects, and gorgeous candlelit imagery (a large portion of the film
takes place at night). It suffers nonetheless from an uneventful
narrative and too many repetitive shots of the protagonist ascending a
darkened stairway, not to mention an extremely noisy and distracting
The transformation of the titular spider into actress
Elisabeth Wiener is accomplished via determinedly old-fashioned means,
i.e. a lot of close-ups and dissolves. The effect is primitive,
but not entirely unsatisfying. Special effects, however, are not what
make THE WATER SPIDER the mildly effective reverie it is; rather, it’s
the unshowy surrealism and burnished visuals that give the film its
fantastic and subtly poetic allure.
THE WATER SPIDER (L’ARAIGNEE D’EAU)
Director: Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe
Screenplay: Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe
(Based on a story by Marcel Bealu)
Cinematography: Jean Gonnet
Editing: Marie-Claire Korber
Cast: Marc Eyraud, Marie-Ange Dutheil, Elisabeth Wiener, Andre Julien,
Pierre Meyrand, Juliet Berto, Josep Maria Flotats