Júlia Murat’s Pendular abounds in exquisite displays of negative space, reminding one that there’s few artistic elements as inherently appealing, visually, as a symmetrical image. The film is set in a sprawling, largely abandoned industrial complex that serves as a loft and an artists’ colony—an enormous structure that’s principally populated by two people, a dancer, Alice (Raquel Karro), and an unnamed sculptor (Rodrigo Bolzan). Alice and the sculptor are in a romantic relationship, and she’s recently moved into the building. At the beginning of the film, the couple tapes off portions of the primary loft, demarcating “his” and “her” sections for their individual work. They play with one another and soon retire to their respective half of the space, each isolated and puzzled. In this instance, the vast emptiness of the setting serves a pronounced metaphorical purpose, signaling that the relationship between these intensely insular artists is doomed.
Murat subsequently uses her setting in subtler and more ingenious fashions, informing a story of a couple’s experiment in cohabitation with abstractly neurotic gravity. With its pipes, ladders, sheet metal, wood, rocks, and all sorts of other bric-a-brac, this loft is obviously and definitively the sculptor’s realm, bespeaking of his creative instinct, which merges mathematical fussiness with a sense of oxymoronically controlled spontaneity. His sculptures pair wood and rock, and the man appears to use the weight of each object against the other as a partially natural form of fusion. The sculptor’s stray ends—the discarded or yet-to-be-used detritus—populate the space with the same studied abandon as his art, to the point that even picture frames are arranged in the background of a room with an eye-tickling sense of geometry. This is an artist’s realm—as culture conditions us to envision the stereotype—in which Alice attempts to carve out her own unique niche.
Pendular’s most exhilarating and expressive passages regard Alice as she dances through her zone, refining art that simultaneously, sometimes spontaneously, comments on her devolving relationship with the sculptor. Alice dances in segments, extending a leg out as an exploratory scouting gesture, then pivoting an arm or another leg or her entire torso around to the same general plot of floor, cumulatively dancing in bursts that call attention to the level of control necessary to executing the choreography. (If she’s with a partner, she softens a bit, incorporating intimate embraces that blur performance and reality.) Unlike other forms of dance, there’s no illusion in Alice’s work of the artist giving herself over to the moment. Instead, Alice’s dancing fascinatingly suggests a physicalizing of mathematical or scientific proofs, which she checks, re-checks, and checks again. One discerns, entirely through action and setting, a commonality uniting Alice and the sculptor as artists then: They’re both wrestling with self-consciousness, attempting to achieve that transcendent unity of personal expression and mechanical proficiency that separates masters from journey-people.
The film is also robustly aware of Alice’s physical weight as both a dancer and a lover. When we see her leg wrapped around the sculptor’s torso as they have sex, we feel her heft, as Murat is attuned to the nuances of Karro’s flesh, musculature, and frame, as well as to Alice’s very dancer-like sense of flow and connectivity with her body. This nuance echoes back to issues of control: Alice has profound mastery over herself, but at the potential expense of an ecstatic intuition, an instinctual in-tune-ness, that’s impossible to concretely define in art and life alike. (At one point, Alice consciously tries to channel this sort of electricity when she dances, and with revealingly awkward abandon, to Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”) Does Alice enjoy the sculptor’s often over-compensatory-seeming thrusts? Does she take pleasure in her dancing, and does it actualize her? Murat doesn’t offer answers, because Alice probably doesn’t know herself.
The film revels in the tactility of everyday life as an attainable kind of exaltation. The loft’s through lines offer their own meaning via the mystery of their beauty (why does symmetry please us?), and Alice’s corporeality is poignant and erotic in a fashion that embarrasses the eroticism of so much male-centric cinema. Eroticism often divorces women of their humanity, conforming them to depressingly typical masturbatory fantasies, while the eroticism of Pendular connects us vitally to Alice’s total essence as a person in transition. Murat forges an alternate cinematic dimension, a living canvas-as-habitat that intoxicatingly affirms her humanism.