During WWII, the residents of Malta were collectively awarded the George Cross for their brave defiance of the Axis onslaught. Sadly, they were not so united in the 1970s, when Labour Prime Minister Dom Mintoff and his allies employed political violence and strong-arm techniques to consolidate their grip on power. For an unemployed boxer, political thuggery is the only position open to him, but it comes at the cost of his soul in Arev Manoukian’s The Maltese Fighter (trailer here), which screens as part of a program of Maltese short films during this year’s Panorama Europe at MoMI.
Carmelo is a warrior in the ring, but it provides little compensation for the single father. His shipyard job did not bring in much more, while he had it. It is 1971 and a new administration has taken over. Known supporters of Mintoff’s critics are in for it. Carmelo is imminently qualified to bash them black-and-blue, but he is awkwardly recognizable. He has a crisis of conscience after only one night, but his new masters will inevitably come around again with another list of names to visit.
Fighter is a visually a striking film that fully capitalizes on Valetta’s stunning harborscape and its gritty back alleys. Cinematographer Matthew Emvin Taylor, gives it a golden hue, with an ominous tint. If ever there were a film with a keen sense of place, this would be it.
Perhaps just as importantly, Malcom Ellul, who has mainly played gladiators and centurions up to this point, gives a remarkable performance as the guilt-wracked Carmelo. He is no mere side of beef. This is sensitive, subtly turned work. Yet, he is also clearly physically cut, so he looks mucho convincing in the boxing ring.
This is a powerful cinematic statement that directly addresses a violent era many would prefer to whitewash and water-down. Indeed, it serves as an uncomfortable reminder, like a punch-drunk fighter who refuses to go down. It is also quite a bold showcase for the talents of Manoukian, Ellul, Taylor, and the rest of the ensemble. Very highly recommended, The Maltese Fighter screens this Saturday (5/19), as part of the 2018 Panorama Europe.