Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017) **** | East End Film Festival 2018

April 10th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Mouly Surya  Writer: Rama Adi| Drama | Indonesia | 92′

There a dark humour to this feminist parable set in the enchanting widescreen skyscapes and exotic shady interiors of a remote Indonesian village in the South Pacific, where revenge is a dish best served with calm and a dash of strychnine by the central character Marlina, played gracefully and with deadpan conviction by Marsha Timothy.

Although Mouly Surya’s third feature is a modern story from a Muslim country it feels distinctly stuck in the Dark Ages, certainly where attitudes towards to the fairer sex are concerned. Played out in four segments, as the title suggests, the film explores how a young widow deals with the aftermath of being robbed of her livestock and then raped by seven bandits who seem to think they have done her a favour. Clearly the pleasure is hers, as we discover early on in this amusingly arcane tale.

Yunus Pasolang’s limpid lensing and Zeke Khaseli and Yudhi Arfani’s redolent trumpet soundtrack often bring to mind a Sergio Leone Western, albeit one set in Sumba Island, to the north east of Australia. This languid drama takes its time and is surprisingly gentle and poetic in contrast to its violent subject matter. There are also touches of surreal artistry at play: in one scene Marlina is followed down the dusty road in the sweltering heat by her headless rapist – or perhaps it’s just a mirage. But the tone is gently upbeat, the pace leisurely but bristling with a low level tension as the story unfurls in a seemingly lawless community where casual violence is prone to rear its head at any given moment, and not just on the part of the male population.

Indonesian men clearly think themselves the superior sex, and are a querulous and unsympathetic lot, but women are not always supportive of each other either, in the Solomon Islands. Marlina is plainly irritated by the heavily pregnant Novi (Dea Panendra) who talks none stop and insists on following her to the Police station in the hope of protection and further attack from the rest of the gang. Marlina’s gruesome package is clearly a talking point amongst locals during their bus journey — but the pair eventually reach their destination despite in an eventful journey that’s as breathtaking as it is satisfyingly weird. MT

EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | 2018 | 12 April 2018

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