Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2017 6:34 pm 
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Hazards of cohabitation for an artist couple

Júlia Murat's previous film, Found Memories (ND/NF 2011), was a delicate semidocumentary meditation about a fading town and its customs and people. It would be nice to think of her new feature, Pendular as a "huge leap forward," as Mike D'Angelo says he does in his Letterboxd discussion. But to begin with while D'Angelo walked out on Found Memories, I liked it; it's low-keyed, but that's the point: it seemed to me haunting and beautiful.

Pendular certainly is a very different kind of film, a straightforward drama about a heterosexual relationship. Ele (Rodrigo Bolzan), a sculptor, and Ela (Raquel Karro), a dancer/choreographer, are an artistic couple who cohabit a huge live-work space in a semi-derelict industrial building, and while their relationship is sexy and relaxed, it's also by implication and inevitably uneasy and competitive: they work where they live (the spaces never seem to me very clearly defined; it's only half-way through that it's clear they have a bedroom away from the open spaces).

Murat struggles with the old problem of showing us what can't be shown - the creative process. There's an imbalance perhaps because Karro is a "more forceful" screen presence (as D'Angelo says). But aggressiveness isn't the only way of getting our attention. Bolzan holds his own a lot of the time with his sad and gloomy looks. Murat likes to show her dancing, and his sculptures and sculpture-making never really come to life. But that's intentional. He's supposed to be having a dry period or a personal crisis. Maybe he doesn't like that she is always having intimate, touchy-feely dances with a younger male partner. And then, Ele wants to "give" Ela a baby, and she doesn't want one. Maybe it's just pretty obviously not a good idea for two artists to be working in the same open space, especially when they're a couple.

The film goes through meandering and repetitive efforts to show us "artists". This includes the couple's bohemian friends, who periodically get together for mixed games of soccer in a courtyard. The friends aren't developed as characters, except, slightly, the plump man who's the critic "friend" to whom Ele foolishly confides that he doesn't know where in the hell he is going with his new work, and the critic tells him he's going nowhere. Is Ela's dancing going anywhere? There is nothing special to prove that, really, other than the fact of those sexy dances with the young male partner. Would it have been too obvious to show Ele noticing this?

With all the junk and sculptures (though what Ele's style is isn't ever clear except that he works big) and Ela's props for her dances it seems Murat is trying to tell by showing, rather than to act out a narrative. The sculptures show Ele is ineffectual because he's not getting them right, not putting together a body of new, consistent work. The big space that Ela's filling with dancing is a mockery to him, who's stuck. But here's another problem: if it's hard to show creativity, it's even harder to illustrate creative blockage.

I frankly found this movie grating. And as so often with movies about artists it makes one wonder if they know what they're talking about, and they're falling into cliché. This is of course also a war of the sexes, and while frontal nudes scenes show Bolzan is perfectly well endowed, there's no doubt his character is pussy-whipped and D'Angelo is right: lots of passive-aggressive stuff is going on. Pendular is flailing, and lacks economy.

Pendular, 108 mins, debuted at the Berlinale, where it won the FIPRESCI Award for the best film in the Panorama section. Screened for this review as part of the 2017 FSLC/MoMA series, New Directors/New Films.
Showtimes Walter Reade Theater 24 Mar. 6:30 p.m.; MoMA 26 Mar. 6:45 p.m.

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