Júlia Murat On Mixing Dance Sequences With Steamy Sex Scenes in Her New Film ‘Pendular’

In Júlia Murat’s Pendular a sculptor and a dancer shack up in an expansive warehouse that will double as their studio in Brazil. To keep things civil, they divide it equally, using tape to delineate their respective areas. But they soon find out that living in such close quarters while trying to follow their artistic goals is harder than they’d anticipated. Mixing contemporary dance sequences, steamy sex scenes, and bitter quarrels between the couple at hand, Murat’s third feature is a seductive look at the creative process.

Remezcla called up Murat to talk about the follow up to her well-received drama, Historias que sólo existen al ser recordadas. She opened up about writing this heated marital drama with Matias Mariani, her now-husband, why she was drawn to bringing these two arts into her film, and why the key image of the movie comes from a 1980 art performance piece. Check out our conversation below.

Pendular screens as part of 2017 New Directors/New Films lineup on March 24 and 26.

Where did the idea for this film come from?

I was just finishing my last film Historias and I was in that moment of thinking what would be the next film. Basically I was trying to figure out what I was needing to talk about. And that point I had just started a relationship with my now-husband and father of my children. I was really thinking about relationships a lot. The beginning of our relationship was a little bit difficult because we were very different. We kind of had a lot of things that we didn’t want to discuss because we were a little bit afraid that if we discussed them, we’d be fighting or something. We spent the first year of the relationship without talking about our difficulties and our secrets and our lives. I was thinking that that would be the model of our relationship and it would be a relationship [based] on silence. Based on not talking. That’s when the idea came to think about these two characters. So I called him and asked him to write the script with me.

Did it feel like a therapy session then?

It wasn’t therapy at all. I thought he was a good screenwriter. It was a way of us to be doing something together which is always something we like doing. But I don’t think it was something therapeutic. That would be a little bit too intimate.

Tell me a bit about how you got this project off the ground.

This was easier than my last film. That one took about 12 years. This one was only 5 years. I mean, it wasn’t difficult to get funds here in Brazil, because Historias had been a success. And here the idea is to fund those who have had very successful first films. For them, it was natural to put money on the film. Finding international funds was a little bit more difficult. Because I think the script was rather difficult to understand. It seems too conceptual and since it was really based on the dance and the sculptures it was difficult to see the relationship of these two characters within the script and how deep it was. So international backers were a little bit more afraid of the film.

Since the movie is, as you say, a bit conceptual, I’m curious how the dance and the sculpture were incorporated into the script.

Six months after we came up with the first idea for the film we set up a workshop with the people from the sculpture and the dance. Basically we went to a huge warehouse and we split it in two. We created not the sculptures or the choreographies that were in the final version of the film, but we created the ideas for them. We worked for two months together, every day. We created the concepts for the film, for the choreographies and for the sculptures. That was the moment where we created two of the scenes that are still in the film: that moment in the film where she presents a dance piece with a chair. That we created in this first workshop, and also the final sculpture. The one she dances over [see clip below]. At that moment I kind of understood a bit about the process and I brought a lot of that to the script. And then, one year before we began shooting the film, we chose the actors and we started working with those dance sequences. It really took a full year of rehearsals.

Sounds like a really engaged process. It explains the closeness that you see on screen between these characters.

Well, actually, the two dancers worked, as I said, for over a year, so it really did add to that intimacy you talk about. But the main actor, Rodrigo, we cast him a year before but he only became involved two months before the shoot. Before that, the two met and had a dinner together. We kind of tried to bring them together but the process itself took place two months before we started filming. And that was basically a rehearsal. I like to rehearse a lot, so that was two months of rehearsals every day. We did a lot improv in order to create that intimacy between them. That was the main thing we worked on.

I was also curious to hear why dance and sculpture became the main subjects of this movie.

Well, first of all I just love them. I always wanted to do both, so bringing them to the film was a way to direct a dance and create a sculpture. It was basically a way for me to realize that dream. But also because for me dance gives a chance for people to really see the process in a cinematic sense. Because we are always seeing the small changes every time they rehearse. It changes in a very visual sense. It’s very possible that if you’re just looking at this process to see the change. It was quite natural to bring it to the cinema. The sculpture was a little bit more difficult because actually the sculpture creates within himself, with drawings and stuff. With things that aren’t easy to film. So that’s why I decided to not put the process itself of the sculptor in the film. We see the sculptures being created but we don’t follow his process in the same way. Also, during the rehearsal process, we looked at a lot of fiction films that showed art-making. But it was quite difficult to find films where the people were just working. Usually, they have that moment of inspiration—it’s all a very romantic way of looking at an artist. That was something we didn’t want to do at all. We wanted to have that real moment of people just working.

This movie focuses on this idea of balance in art and in relationships. Is that different from the concept of “compromise” which is how we sometimes talk about that same idea?

When I had the idea about making a film about love and about relationships, I kind of used this piece by Marina Abramović, the performance artist. It’s a piece she’d made with Ulay, her partner at the time. It’s called “Rest Energy” [where Abramović and Ulay held an arrow together that was aimed at Abramović’s heart, using solely their own body weight]. It was a way of thinking about love. In the sense that you need to find a balance. Otherwise, you’re going to hurt yourself. Otherwise, the arrow is going to go through your heart. That for me was the image I wanted to bring to the film. The balance in the film is not necessarily something they have but something they are always looking for. Because otherwise they know they’re going to hurt themselves. And, of course, they are not able to.