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ADIFF 2018 Review - MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS review
A woman seeks justice after killing a group of male attackers.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mouly Surya

Starring: Marsha Timothy, Egy Fedly, Dea Panendra, Yoga Pratama, Haydar Saliz

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS poster


Indonesian writer/director Mouly Surya's genre hybrid Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts draws influences from both the cinematic east and west, combining the slow burn nature and over the top violence of Japanese samurai cinema with the sun-baked grit of Italian spaghetti westerns and the quirky humour of Jim Jarmusch.

The quietly charismatic Marsha Timothy is the eponymous heroine, who when we meet her first has just undergone a double blow of personal loss - her son died in childbirth a few months ago and her husband has passed away, his mummified corpse sitting in the corner of her living room while she raises the money to pay for his funeral.

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS

Marlina still hasn't paid for her son's burial, and so arrives a group of local gangsters, intent on making her pay her debt with her body. Mixing poisonous berries in with their chicken soup, Marlina takes out the bulk of the men, but the leader, Markus (Egi Fedly), proves more difficult, raping her until she manages to lop his head off with a machete.

Like Warren Oates in Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Marlina wraps up Markus's noggin and sets off on a journey to the nearest town, where she plans to report the incident to the local police. She finds herself in further danger however when a pair of Markus's gang members discover his headless corpse at her home and set out to avenge their boss.

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS

It's far too easy to label any film with a female protagonist battling male villains as 'feminist', but Surya's film is about as misandrist a movie as you're likely to encounter. There's barely a positive male figure to be found in its rogues gallery of rapists, domestic abusers and ineffectual cops, whereas the women Marlina encounters on her journey go out of their way to provide her with comfort and assistance. I don't think it's a stretch to say Surya is commenting on the patriarchal nature of life in rural Indonesia.

While it may be a damning indictment of the regressive gender politics of her country, Surya's film is a visually splendid tribute to its natural beauty. Cinematographer Yunu Pasolang captures the rolling hills and endless dirt roads through a near constant heat shimmer that at times gives Marlina a spectral quality, like Charles Bronson's on his long walk to camera in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. The spaghetti influence continues on the soundtrack, with Zeke Khaseli and Ydhi Arfani delivering a uniquely Asian riff on Ennio Morricone, woodwinds duelling with electric guitars.

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS

For all its vengeance inspired violence, Marlina the Murderer... has its fair share of comedy and charm. Dea Panendra lends the film much dry wit as a pregnant housewife who becomes a companion and integral ally to Marlina. One of the film's most offbeat touches sees the headless corpse of Markus following Marlina around, plucking at the strings of a mandolin type instrument, resulting in arguably the most irritating earworm riff since The Third Man.

For fans of genre cinema hungry for a fresh take on old tropes, Surya's film offers something new - a rape revenge narrative in which the victim becomes the target of vengeance rather than the perpetrator, and one which makes some daring observations on the struggles of women in second world societies while proving entertaining throughout.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is in UK cinemas April 13th.




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