The pressure put on Maltese women to start a family is among the main themes in a new feature film which has just been released for worldwide streaming.
In Corpore is Sarah Jayne Portelli’s second feature film. It looks at the relationship and identity of four separate couples across four countries – Malta, Germany, Australia and the US.
It delves into love, lust, commitment, traditional expectations and all the in-betweens of relationships.
The film has received a number of positive international reviews after being released on Amazon Prime and Vimeo last week.
“I wanted our movie to have Maltese actors speaking in the Maltese dialect so that our viewers not only know about Malta but also our language,” Portelli told Times of Malta.
Portelli explained how she and her husband Ivan Malekin, also a filmmaker, came up with the idea.
“We had been recently married at the time we wrote this, and we wanted to discuss the different types of relationships and to explore the nature of commitment and love,” she said.
The Maltese story within the film delves into the marriage between Anna (Naomi Said) and Manny (Christopher Dingli) who are planning to have a baby.
Anna is torn by the traditional pressure and what she really wants.
The trailer captures the situation: a traditional family lunch during which one member asks: “You are close to planning a baby then, right?”
“I based the Maltese parts very much on my own upbring and family,” Portelli said.
It is a movie about gender, relationships and sexuality
“Numerous times I’ve been asked by relatives when I was going to get married and have children.”
It was important, she said, to keep a strong sense of Maltese tradition in the film, so she would ask the Maltese crew and actors if the scenes were relatable for Maltese viewers.
Said noted that she found it easy to relate to the character of Anna.
“Not necessarily on a superficial level, but definitely with her sense of disappointment of the mundaneness of everyday life, and her quiet resistance,” she said.
Women could relate to what the character felt, she said: the constant struggle of holding on to their bold dreams and disappointing others.
Having just finished her dissertation on improvised storytelling, Naomi Said was excited to be part of the film.
“Ivan and Sarah Jayne had a very clear vision of where they wanted the story to go, and it was a wonderful experience for me both acting and also researching for the part,” Said added.
The research had been both “eye opening” and “frustrating”.
“You begin to notice the harmless, little comments passed on during family gatherings and everyday conversations that really affect us most.
“At times we are so used to hearing such comments we don’t think about it but in the end they can influence us to take certain decisions.”
Co-actor Dingli said the film focused on with the different ways people manipulate each other in the name of love.
“Both Manny and Anna are flawed people, like any of us,” he said.
The script, he added, was improvised and the filmmaking “fearless and uncompromising”.
The most difficult part about getting to know his character was that there was no screenplay to read, but Naomi had helped him piece the jigsaw puzzle together of Manny and his relationship with Anna.
“Manny didn’t feel entirely relatable to me when he was first described by Sarah Jayne and Ivan,” Dingli noted.
“The difference between me and the character seemed striking at first, but that’s all part of the fun. It is a movie about gender, relationships and sexuality... a modern love story with all the messiness and complexity that entails it all.”