‘Pendular’: Film Review

Two artists try to work and live in close confines in ‘Pendular,’ Julia Murat’s affectingly restrained drama.

How many relationships hit choppy seas with the utterance of the words “I need more space?” That common refrain is literalized in Julia Murat’s Pendular, a smart and involving look at two artists attempting to share both a life and a studio without losing sight of their own needs in the process. Half-serious comparisons being made to La La Land are illustrative despite the vast chasm between the films: Where Damien Chazelle observed lovers filled with a desire to make it in entertainment, Murat’s picture revolves around the need to make art, with career an afterthought. The film will find many admirers at fests, and would make a fine addition to some boutique art house distributor’s roster.

Murat co-wrote the film with Matias Mariani, with whom she was just beginning a romantic relationship. (They’ve now been together six years, with two children.) But the script skips past any dreamy romance to focus on an attempt to put ideals into practice: We meet our unnamed She (Raquel Karro) and He (Rodrigo Bolzan) as they are taping a long line to the floor of a run-down factory space, where each will have one half of an open room to use as a studio. They’ll live in an unadorned area alongside this space — a crazy idea, say the artists/friends who work elsewhere in this abandoned industrial park.

The Bottom Line

This relationship film benefits from an uncommonly good sense of the artist’s life.

Immediately, Murat and DP Soledad Rodrigues start to offer the film’s most distinctive pleasure: unhurried scenes of each artist at work. He, a sculptor, uses winches to move heavy materials into stable arrangements; She, a dancer, rolls with purpose on the floor as she experiments with new choreography.

Seemingly, He would be the more successful of the two, and given the physicality of his tools and materials, we’re not surprised when he complains that “it’s becoming impossible” to work in his zone. A treaty is reached; the tape is moved. And barely a scene later, we are treated to evidence of what She has been up to, sans materials, while he hauls in slabs of stone. She’s reading quietly in one chair, resting her feet on another and slowly rocking back and forth. The movement becomes more interesting than the book, and she riffs on it, with her calmly controlled movements gathering into a work she’ll present as a formal performance.

That scene is exquisite both on its own and as a subtle taste of an artistic rivalry that may be brewing. The movie explores her curiosity about work He hasn’t shared with her, and listens as He frets to an art-critic friend about uncertainty in his current efforts.

All the while, Murat also observes them as a couple. Several surprisingly graphic sex scenes alternate with casual hangouts introducing the pair’s social circle (secondary characters, strangely, are granted names) and the individual friendships each maintains outside the relationship. The two don’t require a strip of tape to ensure that their identities don’t merge during the long hours they spend together — at times, especially as Karro’s performance turns inward, they seem more in danger of the opposite. But that certainly doesn’t mean their artistic pursuits don’t color the domestic life they want to build together, threatening it even when things are at their happiest.

Production companies: Esquina Prodoçoes, Bubbles Project, Syndromes Films, Cepa Audiovisual, Still Moving
Cast: Raquel Karro, Rodrigo Bolzan, Neto Machado, Marcio Vito, Felipe Rocha, Renato Linhares, Larissa Siqueira, Carlos Eduardo Santos, Valeria Berreta, Martina Revollo
Director: Julia Murat
Screenwriters: Julia Murat, Matias Mariani
Producers: Julia Murat, Tatiana Leite
Director of photography: Soledad Rodrigues
Production designer: Ana Paula Cardoso
Costume designer: Preta Marques
Editors: Lia Kulaukauskas, Marina Meliande
Composers: Lucas Marcier, Fabiano Krieger
Casting director: Maria Clara Escobar
Venue: New Directors/New Films
Sales: Pierre Menahem, Still Moving

In Portuguese
105 minutes