Thursday , April 18 2024

SXSW Movie Review: Natalia Santa’s ‘Malta’

Making its world premiere at SXSW 2024 is an engrossing character study, Malta, written and directed by Natalia Santa.

Estefania Piñeres stars as Mariana, a young Columbian woman who drifts around the streets of Bogotá, almost in a trance. Her meanderings seem aimless, occasionally interrupted by a sexual encounter or a visit home.

But at home, her iron-fisted mother, Julia (Patricia Tamayo), is waiting to deride her and the way she’s living. Mariana feels the same way about Julia, disapproving of her mother’s drinking and thinking that her life has been a series of wasted opportunities.

She seems to have a better relationship with sister Mónica (Angela Rodriguez), but they too have their ups and downs.

The only male relationship she seems to have (aside from the sexual encounters) is with Leonardo, who is gay. But she is actually longing to see her absent brother, Rigo (Edwin Riveros) again. Since he’d left the house (driven away by Julia), she’d frequently sent him several voicemails and texts, but to no avail.

Malta Dreams

Mariana keeps herself busy daily working at a call center and studying German, but her ultimate fantasy is to travel to the island of Malta, which is as beautiful to her as a dream. She’s a very sensual woman. Everything exists to be touched, tasted and smelled. Even the men she picks up are conduits to add to her experience.

She’s constantly being romantically pursued by a classmate, Gabriel (Emmanuel Restrepo), but she keeps shrugging him off. And when she finally relents, they behave like a couple of teenagers exploring each other’s bodies for the first time. The reverie doesn’t last long, though. She’s more determined than ever to reach her goal.

Santa has constructed a splendid film. It’s deliberately paced and realistic in its depiction of how the characters interact. The cast is also fine.

Piñeres especially is a revelation. She’s onscreen the entire time—and you can’t keep your eyes off of her. Piñeres worked closely with the director, who said, “Our collaborative process involved extensive conversations, improvisations, and rehearsals to cultivate emotional authenticity on screen.” This in-depth collaboration really paid off.

Malta premiered Saturday, March 9, at SXSW. It encores Monday, March 11 and Thursday, March 14. Check the SXSW schedule for locations and showtimes.

Photo courtesy Cinema Tropical.

About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and inbound marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.

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