Go backBack to selection

“It Was Necessary to Make Non-Obvious Cuts”: Editor Marilia Moraes on Malu

A white woman with long, curly dark hair wears a white tunic and stands smiling in the sunlight.Malu,courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Malu is a mercurial actress living with her conservative mother in a Rio de Janeiro slum while trying to navigate her strained relationship with her own daughter in Pedro Freire’s multigenerational family drama, Malu. The film is the feature debut of director Pedro Freire.

Serving as editor is Marilia Moraes, whose credits include the recent Medusa and Petra Costa’s Elena. Below, Moraes dives deep into her process and what the particularities of the film required in the editing room, including the need to construct its rhythms around the performers.

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor questionnaire here.

Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?

Moraes: Malu tells the story of three women from different generations, their conflicts and anguish. I believe that the choice for a female perspective in the editing of this film made a lot of sense. Pedro is an excellent director of actors: He built the entire narrative so that the actresses could carry the drama through the movements of their bodies, their breathing, silences and everyday dialogues. All elements are at their service; therefore, the editing could not be dissonant. I am an editor who is attentive to nuances and tends to observe what is unique about each material before proposing cuts. In the case of Malu, the main focus of the editing was attention to the interpretation that makes up each character’s trajectory. I like to break down raw material and let rhythm and naturalness emerge from it. The proposal was a sincere montage with almost no artifice, composed of dry cuts that respect the fluid camera and the timing of the shots, that does not use a soundtrack (only diegetic music) and that looks intimately at the story that unfolds autonomously through the powerful performances.

Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?

Moraes: The editing process began with assembling the material as it was written and filmed, respecting the order of the scenes and understanding the potential of each character. From then on, over 14 weeks we refined our senses and understood that the film deserved a faster pace at the beginning. We decided to cut off all the introductory scenes. Now, in the final cut, the first act of the film begins in conflict already, and the following acts unfold and deepen it, showing the most intimate layers of the relationship between these women.

Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?

Moraes: The rapport and partnership with the director, who is also a screenwriter, was fundamental to this result. His perfect understanding of the film’s construction process meant that we were able to be bold in our proposals, giving up many scenes and ordering others that served to preserve the essence of the drama. As the process progressed, we received valuable feedback, which was useful in encouraging and guiding decisions for more radical cuts. Furthermore, we count on constant creative monitoring from production.

Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?

Moraes: I started writing scripts, but I was quickly attracted by the power of moving images. I was a trailer editing assistant. This experience gave me contact with many films in the advanced editing process, which left me fascinated, and the discovery of a craft when I was still young. At the age of 22 I started editing films. I am curious and genuinely interested in people. I like telling stories and I believe in the power of narratives to generate personal transformations. I move freely between genres in fiction and in the ways of exploring languages in documentaries. I bring to my creative processes a mix of my personal experiences and the artistic references that inspire me. I propose a visceral contact of deep listening to the other and completely collaborative where references emerge in a kind of free association of ideas. For this film specifically, I remember wanting to revisit some of John Cassavetes’ films and reconnect with the process of creating the personal documentary Elena by filmmaker Petra Costa, which I edited a few years ago.

Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?

Moraes: Adobe Premiere. It was a workflow chosen by the producer/finisher and appreciated by the director, who also operates this software, which made our editing process much easier.

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Moraes: The scene in which Juju arrives at the house, Malu shows the environment and introduces Tibira, and finally, Juju meets Lili. Unlike the rest of the material, this scene was filmed from different angles, with many takes. The camera was placed in the hand of the photographer, who follows the actresses, sometimes very close and sometimes at a distance. And in addition, in the editing we chose to suppress parts of the text. The actresses move around the environment and talk in a very natural way, without defined performance characteristics. To get the rhythm and content right, it was necessary to make non-obvious cuts. The construction of the scene was based on the rhythm of the actresses, their movements and dramatic intentions. In the film, this is without a doubt the scene with the most cuts.

Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other postproduction techniques play in terms of the final edit?

Moraes: We have two scenes where mother and daughter talk in the car, which were done with chroma key. The landscape seen through the window was applied in postproduction.

Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?

Moraes: The motivation for this work comes from something real, very strong and concrete, which is the personal and intimate experience of the mother and child relationship experienced by the director. This was felt from my first contact with written text. The editing process was rich; however, the transposition of this text into the images was successfully achieved already on set. The raw material that came to the editing room was full of intensity, very well filmed and with exquisite performances. It was up to me to observe the details and manage to offer a cadence of scenes that supported the subtleties and depth of the drama that were already in place, removing excess speech and focusing on ellipses and atmospheres. With the film ready, I see that there was no major transformation and despite being absolutely aware of every decision that put the film on its feet, I can still be a spectator of this story, get involved and moved by it.

© 2024 Filmmaker Magazine. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of The Gotham