Monday, July 30, 2018

Movie Review: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts *** / *****
Directed by: Mouly Surya.
Written by: Rama Adi and Garin Nugroho and Mouly Surya.
Starring: Marsha Timothy (Marlina), Egy Fedly (Markus), Dea Panendra (Novi), Yoga Pratama (Franz), Haydar Salishz (Niko).
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a feminist revenge Western from Indonesia, which combines elements from Tarantino and Jarmusch and Leone into a strange little film. Much of the film is a journey where not a lot happens – on the dusty backroads in Indonesia. The gender wars are playing out here in a very different environment than the one we are normally see play out. It is a strange film, well-made throughout, but it is perhaps a little too slight for even its 93 minute runtime.
The film opens with Markus (Egy Fedly), an older man with flowing hair, arriving at the report house owned by Marlina (Marsha Timothy) – a recently widowed young woman. Markus makes no attempt to disguise his reasons for coming – his gang of six more men will be arriving shortly, and they will take everything from here – all of her livestock – and leave her with nothing. “If we have time, we’ll sleep with you” he tells her – a matter of fact of telling her she is going to be gang raped. Sure enough, the other men do arrive – two of the men do leave with all her livestock, and Markus orders Marlina to feed the rest of his men – which she does with chicken soup that she has poisoned, so they keel over dead. Markus is in the bedroom though, and Marlina cannot get him to eat the soup – at least not until after he has raped her – a decision that leads to him being decapitated.
That is act one – The Robbery. What follows is three other acts – The Journey, The Confession and The Birth. The second act is no real mystery – Marlina, travelling with Markus’ head, sets off to get to town to report the robbery and the rape to the police. She meets up with Novi (Dea Panendra) – a woman who is currently nine months pregnant – who is also on the road, looking for her husband – who thinks that because she has gone past her due date, that it is a sign of infidelity (he’s also convinced it will be a breach birth, which to him, would be incontrovertible truth that she has cheated on him). Marlina is fighting her justice in her way – and Novi is fighting a different sort of gender war. Both will essentially realize they are on their own throughout the course of the film. Not only did Marlina have to fend off her attackers as best she could, the cops don’t seem too interested in helping even when she does report it.
The film is directed by Mouly Surya, making her third feature (the other two are ones I missed). She is assured behind the camera, making a film that takes elements from other directors, and turning them into something different. Much of the film feels like a Jarmusch study of isolation and solitude. The score is something out of Leone however, the flashes of violence bring to mind Tarantino, the elements of travelling with a head brings to mind Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. And yet, despite all of the references and influences, this film is uniquely itself – and not just because it is a female director, taking the mostly masculine influences, and turning them into something more feminine.
Yet, I do have to say that the story, as much as there is one, is too slight to fully support a feature. After the robbery that opens the film, there is a lot of walking, a lot of the same thing happening again and again, in slight variations. This very well may be the point – that no matter where Marlina turns, she’s confronted with yet another idiot man standing in her way. It does hurt the flow though.
Still, the skill on display makes me very interested to see what Surya does here. You sometimes see foreign films, and wonder if they are made for Western audiences, more than homegrown ones. This feels like that more than a little – and while I liked much of what I saw, I think there is something more here to be explored and exploited. I liked Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts – but I hope to love whatever Surya does next.

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