Malaya (2020), a film by Connie Macatuno starring Lovi Poe and Zanjoe Marudo, tells the story of two lovers, Malaya (Poe) and Santiago (Marudo), who just don’t seem to get the perfect timing to be with each other freely.
From the start, Malaya, a Filipina immigrant, was established to be a character devoted to her family and focused on building her career up from the ground after completing a degree in Mass Communication in the Philippines. Meanwhile, Santiago, nicknamed Iago, was an Italy-born Filipino chasing a financially-stable life. Unlike Malaya, Santiago’s character seems to be “freer” from filial duties due to a strain on his and his father’s relationship.
Looking at their story in retrospect, when circumstances lead you to meet someone over and over again even after parting ways several times, you’re bound to think that maybe – just maybe – you’re destined to be together, that maybe, you’re “it” for each other. However, love doesn’t work entirely on timings. As cliché as it may sound, love works on chemistry, effort, and choices, too.
Now, the main conflict of the film revolves around the characters’ freedom to be with each other. With Malaya bound to her family, goals, and career, she feels like she can’t be with Iago. All her life, Malaya knew of Filipino immigrants and OFWs working as domestic helpers in Italy.
With everything she’d been through, she wants to achieve more, something other than being someone’s nanny or domestic helper. It’s not that being a nanny or a domestic helper brings shame to someone’s name, but having been through what she’d been through, one is free to dream of greener pastures and dignifying, prideful careers. Iago, on the other hand, while he has dreams of his own, doesn’t really follow a concrete plan and only goes with the flow – whatever thickens his wallet, he goes with it, and he does this, of course, honorably.
Funny though, how the irony came in this form: Malaya and Santiago met while working to achieve their goals, but the relationship that blossomed along the way only seemed to be the bump along each other’s path to success, especially to Malaya’s.
Malaya, as much as she wants to follow her heart, is bound to her loyalty to her family, especially to her mother. She grew up keeping the obedient image to repay her mother’s sacrifices for their family, and she feels that committing to a relationship with Santiago would be disobedience to her mother. And so, Iago had to go on and work towards his goals without waiting for Malaya.
The third time they meet again, Malaya seemed more free and comfortable to act upon her desires. However, it would be Iago who’s bound this time. Iago was to be married. One’s conscious, moral part of the mind would frown upon their actions, but the rational part would acknowledge the palpable emotions repressed for so long yet unearthed so suddenly. In the morning, they would be parting for the third time, and this would be the first time Malaya will admit her loss and mourn the love she denied herself of. They will meet again and again in the future, but always will they part ways and never move on. The audience can only hope they find the right time then, both free from any shackle.
Overall, Malaya’s character was likable, but it is Iago’s that I don’t want to romanticize. His character raised a lot of red flags. He’s a smooth, sweet talker, but his actions don’t match his words. He made Malaya watch an explicit movie with him without her affirmative consent! He fails at communicating with Malaya yet basks in Malaya’s forgiveness. He made Malaya a convenient escape. No one in search of a healthy relationship would want to be the receiving end of Iago’s actions. Imagining being Malaya was so frustrating because Malaya deserved better. Malaya deserved a man who will willingly choose her and give her clear signals and visible actions to match promising words.
With all this narrative analysis, Poe’s and Marudo’s performances were good. Poe was especially natural and effective in delivering her character. As for Marudo’s performance though, I think there were times when the script failed to deliver his character without being corny.