Abandonment and Abandon


In the first 10 minutes of the new film Malta, we learn the following about its main character, Mariana: 

She pees in the shower.

She's slept with a strange man in a strange building whose front door she can't unlock.

She works a dull job at a call center.

She draws male attention wherever she goes.

She likes anonymous sex with flashy men.

She prefers to be on top.

And also, her goldfish has died.

Mariana's home life is suffocating. Her mother calls her an ingrate and wants her to leave. Her grandfather is in a vegetative state, confined to his wheelchair. Her brother is already out of the house and sleeps wherever returning home a hero to his younger siblings while denying his paternal responsibilities to his pregnant girlfriend. 

Malta takes place in Bogotá, Colombia. Mariana's pipe dream is to escape to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

You may think you've seen this story before. To be sure, it belongs to a subgenre of character studies of disaffected youth. But director Natalia Santa lays it out deftly; Mariana's story immerses you. The grace with which Ms. Santa portrays it is a reason to see the film.

Malta is Ms. Santa's second feature (her first is The Dragon Defense, 2017). She has an education in literature and has written for Colombian TV (intriguingly, she's working on a series adapted from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel 100 Years of Solitude). She directs Malta from her own script. Her film will have its world premiere at this year's SXSW Film Festival.

As Mariana, Estefanía Piñeres gives a subtle and layered performance, going seamlessly from punk tough to pliant. The actress morphs with conviction into Mariana's sense of grievance and hard shell, making her wayward life appear to be her choice. When we meet her, Mariana wears her denim and leather-like armor. When her life bends toward better, she softens (aided by Ms. Santa's direction and the cinematography of Iván Herrera). Ms. Piñeres is known in Colombia for her film and TV work in the U.S. for Netflix's Wild District (2019).

Mariana is matched and balanced by that of Emmanuel Restrepo as Gabriel, her nerdy suitor. Gabriel knows Mariana is out of his league, but he persists and is undeterred by Mariana's aloofness and self-destructive ways. He sees more in her and proclaims, "You are less angry when you're with me," which pisses her off even more.

Praise goes also to the performances of Patricia Tamayo as Mariana's depressed mother, Diego Cremonesi as her gay confidante/sidekick Leonardo, Angela Rodriguez as her younger but wiser sister Monica, and César Badillo as her ne'er-do-well brother Rigo. 

Natalia Santa's treatment of Mariana's trajectory is sensitive and insightful. It's futile to wonder whether Malta is autobiographical. The emotions and actions expressed are the benchmarks of coming of age. 

Malta isn't a cautionary tale but an intimate rendering of remorse and rebirth.


Malta. Directed by Natalia Santa. Produced by Perro de Monte, Oh My Gómez!, Hummelfilm and EFD. In theaters and on VOD. 97 minutes.

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