Cinemalaya review: Art scene shares spotlight with May-December affair in 'Malamaya'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 11 2019 11:14 AM

Sunshine Cruz plays a 45-year-old artist in 'Malamaya'

MANILA -- In "Malamaya," Nora is a 45-year-old veteran in the local art scene noted for her multi-media artwork, painting using oil with various cloth pieces for texture. She was notorious in her circle and among the millennial art students for being snobbish, not wanting to sell her paintings because she sees them as her children. She lived alone in her big house, with only her Persian cat Luna for company. 

One day, she met Migs in an art gallery, and they hit it off because of their common love for smoking. He was a 30-year-old young man, a fledgling photographer by trade. From his first scene, he immediately came across as a bad boy, lighting up a cigarette inside the exhibit hall, which, of course, caught the attention of Nora, a chain-smoker herself. Their initial meeting immediately led to a romp in bed in Nora's house. 

Sunshine Cruz brought to life a Nora who was not the stereotypical image of a spinster. She was always stylishly dressed with perfectly coiffed hair. She was not deprived in the sex department, since she would have casual dalliances with the pottery teacher Jim (Raymond Bagatsing) on her call. She steadfastly stuck to her personal artistic philosophies, no matter how unpopular. She spoke frankly with pointed language. Cruz successfully pulled off that distinct "artist" temperament, as if she really was a painter. 

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Enzo Pineda played Migs as an arrogant, selfish guy. He wore shades and broods to look cool, not exactly an original portrayal of a Romeo. Onscreen, Pineda did not have chemistry with Cruz at all, in my opinion. To be fair, the script never really made him likable. He was boorish and messy around the house. He watched basketball games with loud commentary and startling commentary. He did not take criticism about his photography well. He was shown not to have any integrity of character. 

Aside from "Belle Douleur," "Malamaya" was the other film from Cinemalaya 2019 which also featured a torrid May-December love affair between an older woman and a much younger man. In my review of "Belle," I suspected that these films will most probably follow the same basic formula of single older woman swept off her feet by the attention of a young hunk, which later led to a generous serving of steamy scantily clad scenes in the bedroom. I was not wrong with this assumption, these basic plot points were all there. 

Interesting to note that both of these films were written and directed by female filmmakers, but they were not certainly told in the same way. "Belle" followed a more typical, old school style of soft romantic storytelling, with dimmed lighting and swelling musical soundtrack, that includes "La Vie en Rose." Under the hands of young experimental directors Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez, "Malamaya" dared to tread a less-beaten pathway as it unfolded its tale, with its flawed toxic characters and decidedly hard unromantic attack. 

I commend the ladies behind "Malamaya" for bringing to fore the lively Filipino art scene. Many scenes featured a breathtakingly beautiful painting or artwork somewhere in the frame. There were scenes shot in Angono, Rizal, the so-called art capital of the Philippines, haven to many local artists and home to the colorful Higantes festival. When the directors revealed that Nora was actually based on a real-life artist, the character gained a sheen of dignified individuality. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."