Limestone Cowboy is about a country with its representation being a joke candidate, Karist Camilleri (Portelli Paul). Around him is his enabler Tommy (Paul Cilia) and the derisive national media covering the former. Abigail Mallia’s camera can be occasionally jittery, and embarking on telling the story of a joke candidate is rough.
The world is full of joke candidates who end up incompetently running countries. But compassion comes through in how Mallia depicts him, even when he’s at his most foul. Taking on a cowboy persona and speaking mostly in English, Karist’s plan to turn Malta into an American state gains surprising support.
Tommy figures prominently into the film but his motivations are mysterious. Karist’s other enablers, like the euro trash Ricky (Lee Farrugia), have more superficial ones. Unlike these men, Karist’s son John (Davide Tucci), yearning for bourgeois respectability, tries to sway his father from shaming the family name.
Although moments of visual accomplishment are few and far between, it does delineate how different John is from everyone else. The spaces he inhabits look sanitized, and so is the hospital where he tries to send Karist. To do so he manipulates his son Adam (Matthew Sheridan) to lie.
In comparison, the film surrounds Karist with, well, limestone, denoting age but not necessarily decay. Here, Tommy is also welcome, taking on the father figure for Karist even though they’re likely the same age. Karist, and thus John, come from a long line of fathers who inadvertently hurt their children.
The actors playing the three main characters are commendable. That’s specifically true for Cilia, the standout who can bring Tommy’s ambiguous sides onscreen. All of them perform well in a national backdrop, a Malta where both religion and politics count. And Mallia, flaws aside, knows to plant that subtext well.