The Movie Waffler SXSW 2024 Review - MALTA | The Movie Waffler

SXSW 2024 Review - MALTA

Malta review
A listless young Colombian woman dreams of visiting the island of Malta.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Natalia Santa

Starring: Estefanía Piñeres, Patricia Tamayo, Emmanuel Restrepo, Diego Cremones

Malta poster

Colombian writer/director Natalia Santa's first film, The Dragon's Defence, centred on three middle-aged men. For her latest she opts for a very different protagonist, a young woman in her early twenties.

Mariana (Estefania Piñeres) lives a listless life. She works a dull job in a call centre, spending any downtime between calls exploring foreign cities on Google Earth. She fills her evenings between German classes and visiting bars and nightclubs where she picks up older men. We quickly learn that this isn't inspired by any incessant sexual cravings but rather because she'd rather spend the night in the home of a stranger than return to her overbearing, alcoholic mother (Patricia Tamayo), who constantly nags Mariana about her lifestyle choices.

Malta review

Indulging in sex on a purely utilitarian basis has caused Mariana to close her heart to any potential romance. She attracts the attention of Gabriel (Emmanuel Restrepo), a goofy but awkwardly charming young man from her German class, but she initially rebuffs his cringey attempts to arrange a date. It's clear Mariana enjoys his company, but she turns her face whenever he makes her laugh, as though she's ashamed of her feelings. An awkward courtship eventually develops, but while Mariana seems to have found someone who makes her happy, she only becomes more determined to leave Bogota, settling, somewhat randomly, on the island of Malta as a destination.

Malta review

Piñeres is fantastic in the role of the stubborn Mariana. She plays the part like a kitten discovering its surroundings, always picking up things and tasting stuff better left alone. She does a brilliant job of conveying both Mariana's tough exterior and her warm centre, often simultaneously. Piñeres and Restrepo are a delight together as two outsiders who seem right for each other, which makes us root for Mariana to open her heart.

Malta review

The trouble with Malta is that its storytelling is as meandering and unfocussed as its protagonist, so it's easy to drift out of its narrative and forget what exactly it is we're supposed to be invested in. A little more time devoted to Mariana's family may have helped flesh out her own character, as the glimpses we get of her home life hardly explain why she's willing to risk her life by hooking up with strange men. Ultimately it's the performances of Piñeres and Restrepo that help us navigate a film that often plays like a poor cousin of Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird.

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