Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts Review
Indonesian filmmaker Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is at times a mishmash of tones, moving from deadpan comedy one minute to ironic blood-splattered violence the next. This can make it difficult to know exactly what she is aiming for, although playing within the boundaries of the western genre Surya manages to create a strong heroine worth following along her journey across the simmering, dusty Indonesian trail.
The plot is a simple one, led by Marline (Marsha Timothy), who is far from the cold blooded murderer the title suggests she may be (although you might want to skip her cooking). Most of the men in her world treat women like crap and her silent inner defiance lends itself to many of the great stoic heroes that have filled our screens over the years seen traversing across similarly harsh landscapes.
The four acts mentioned in the title are revealed as The Robbery, The Journey, The Confession and The Birth showing Marlina, at first, threatened with a potential gang rape by seven men who invite themselves into her home, led by local gangster Marcus (Egy Fedly). She isn’t able to avoid such a fate at the hands of Marcus himself, although her retribution is swift enough.
The surreal sight of her mummified husband sits in the corner of the house and soon enough the body count is as high as the sun in the sky outside. Come the next morning she begins her long trip through the sun-baked rural countryside towards the police station, the head of one man tied up in a perfect bow for the journey ahead.
Along the way there are more encounters with other gang members who are looking to avenge their boss’ death. With the men shown here as pretty much good for nothing beyond displaying their ignorance and dishing out abuse, it is left up to her heavily pregnant neighbour Novi (Dea Panendra) to help her along the way. Novi has her own problems to deal with thanks to her absent husband, and this seems to add to the underlying commentary about life for women living in this part of the country.
Cinematographer Yunu Pasolang is the real star of the show here, with an impeccable sense of framing and stunning use of light. Scene after scene is beautifully lensed by not only taking in the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape but in how everything is positioned in the shot with such potent intent.
There are definite shades of Ennio Morricone in Zeke Khaseli and Ydhi Arfani’s subtle score too, which fuses its influences into something closer to homage instead of just simply borrowing and lazily riffing.
Marsha Timothy carries the film with her determined performance which helps to fill in some of the narrative gaps that are, at times, left as barren as the ground she walks upon. It's a simple but very well constructed film and demonstrates there is still plenty of life left in the genre when seen from a fresh and energetic perspective.