Reel Reviews | Malu (Sundance ’24)

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

An unemployed actress struggles to maintain relevancy to her mother and daughter in a world that has left her behind in Malu.

Malu is a mercurial, unemployed actress living with her conservative mother in a precarious house in a Rio de Janeiro slum.  When her daughter visits them, Malu tries to reconnect and resurrect her strained relationship with her, even though she is buried in memories of days gone by.  Threatened by the success of her daughter’s acting career, Malu finds herself thrusting the memories of her glorious artistic past and her visions for the future upon her daughter and anyone else who will give her the time to share.  Meanwhile, Malu’s mother worries for the life and safety of her daughter, despite Malu’s efforts to silence and isolate her from her wild and artistic life.

Malu is written and directed by Pedro Friere.  It stars Yara De Novaes, Carol Duarte, Juliana Carneiro Da Cunha and Átila Bee.  This is the first feature film for Friere who has directed several shorts before this film.  It is also Friere’s first time at Sundance.

Interestingly, this film is about a troubled actress who seems to have lost her grip on reality.  Yara De Novaes who plays Malu is a fantastic actress.  It may go unnoticed through the progression of the movie because of its subject material but, Novaes is transformative in her role.  She is lovable and hateable, simultaneously, almost in the same scenes.  When we reach the third act of the story, we begin to see just the incredible job that Novaes does in the film.   The script does not automatically lend itself to grand moments for the actors but Novaes finds a way to be excellent.  Her range is phenomenal and her skill is effortless.

At the end of the film, Friere has a dedication that allows us to know that Malu is based on a true story.  It adds an extra dimension to the film that is unbelievably sad considering the way the film ends. 

As a whole though, Malu has an interesting message about seizing the day but the message seems almost contradictory in the beginning because Malu’s behavior and her interactions with her family are so outrageous and at times distasteful.  But the power of the story comes in realizing what Malu is dealing with mentally and physically.

Malu has not yet been rated by the MPAA nor has it been bought by a distribution company. It is a simple story that would normally be overlooked but the performance of Yara de Novaes should not be overlooked.  She is fantastic in a film that is not.      

 Grade:  C+