Malaya has been consistently on top of iWant’s and TFC’s list of most streamed movies for quite sometime now—and it does not come as a big surprise. The film proves to be a captivating love story that has so much more to offer than just its much talked about love scene.
To add to that, I want to undoubtedly declare that this film features Lovi Poe and Zanjoe Marudo at their best and director Concepcion Macatuno’s most memorable work to date. Here’s why…
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Lovi plays the title role, a Filipina who reunites with her family in Puglia, Italy. She establishes herself in a foreign land while rekindling her relationship with her mother. She also finds herself juggling feelings for the love of her life whom she has found in her new home. With the story spanning over almost eight years, she evolves as a daughter, career woman, lover, and, ultimately, as a Filipina in Italy. Lovi's portrayal of what could have been the usual Pinay OFW character posseses beauty and strength that lie on its authenticity and seamlessness. She perfectly fits the role through an effortless performance, complemented by her inherent sensuality. Malaya is far from being just a simple girl with the typical OFW dreams, and Lovi manages to fluently breathe life to the character’s complexities. +4
Zanjoe plays Iago, a Filipino born and raised in Italy whose ambition becomes both his motivation and weakness. His character rivals Malaya’s in its complexity, consequently complementing her. Just like Malaya, Iago has parental issues—this time around, with his father—and they both are faced with parallel struggles in their families and careers. The characters' combination is bound to be a recipe for disaster, yet it presents a sumptuous pairing. (Think blue cheese in ice cream, or dried fish with champorado. Come to think of it, Zanjoe and Lovi would be each other's gender opposites just for their intrinsic sexiness!) In the process, fate takes the two on an emotional roller-coaster with crossroads aplenty. Though Zanjoe portrays a character that he’s never done before on screen, he does so as organically as it comes and quite convincingly so. +3
The film’s trailer promises the material to be steamy. It cuts to the chase as within a few minutes into the movie, we are gifted with one of the longest and most emotional love scenes ever. What I particularly love about this scene is how it conveys so many emotions about the characters’ pasts through their body language. Every kiss, every caress, and, say, every stroke of hair away from Malaya’s face tells a story of familiarity and comfort that only two hearts who have clearly gone through so much together can passionately express. +4
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Now let’s talk about the film’s setting. Puglia is indeed scenic, more rural than other Italian cities and therein lies its charm. Setting the movie in a smaller town in Italy definitely works to the material’s advantage as this particularly more rustic backdrop amplifies the feeling of longing, alienation, and isolation on the characters—both, meanwhile, try to find their place in this world. +2
This is not the first time I am writing about Macatuno’s work as a director and as I disclosed in one of my previous articles, she was a filmmaking mentor of mine. With this close association, I am well aware that one of her directorial strengths is her visual aesthetic. Lovi wears a lot of Macatuno's pieces as a designer in the film, most of them artisanally hand-painted. Check out the director-designer's instagram @iamlokal for more of her pieces—this meticulous attention to detail is evident throughout Malaya! +2
Being the writer of Malaya as well, Macatuno brings us a peculiar ride with what could have been just another OFW love story. The elements of the formulaic overseas affair are there in the tradition of Milan and Hello, Love, Goodbye, yet she leads us through the film, never really knowing the star-crossed lovers' fate. "My take away from this film is: Sana we learn to make a stand and walk the extra mile to be with someone," she earlier told me. I now definitely agree with her after watching the movie, since I personally do not agree with the characters' life choices. But then again without these wrong decisions, where would the drama be? +2
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I am personally not a fan of melodrama when it comes to films, or else I’d just have my fix from the usual fare on local TV. Hence, the tone that Macatuno chooses for the film is just down my alley. Well, there is one dramatic scream fest somewhere in the film, a confrontation set at the Trani di Porto Church and strategically done to turn on the waterworks. (It's effective with myself shedding a tear or two!) My favorite scene, though, is Malaya and Iago's breakup. No words needed, just a lot of feelings. +3
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Totaling 20 points, Malaya would have been perfect for the big screen, but, alas, the pandemic forcing us to stream it just digitally. With the traction the movie has been getting online, I bet this would have made a killing in the box-office if it were released in the cinemas. For now, I just want to convince you to catch it at home and absorb a kind of romance that is wrong but longs—it might just hit home to those of you loving someone but with distance, among other things, in the way.
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Photos courtesy of Concepcion Macatuno