Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts [film review – GFF2018]

Touted as a feminist ‘Satay’ western about a wronged woman who refuses to be wronged anymore, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts might initially seem like a sword-slinging antidote to the slog of grim news currently seeping out from the entertainment industry, but what ensues has more depth than a brief up-yours to the patriarchy.

Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is a recently widowed woman living on her own on the Indonesian island Sumba. A local gang leader called Markus (Egi Fedly) turns up at her door one day and calmly tells Marlina that he and his six friends plan to rob her of her livestock and rape her one by one. The spoiler on what happens next is in the film’s title.

marlina the murderer

Marlina is a film about how Indonesian women in rural isolation strain against unfair gender relations, and have no choice but to protect themselves and each other. Director Mouly Surya never travels the camera during a shot, setting up a static frame to let the audience know this is how it is, no tricks. But that doesn’t mean that the camera work is dry or dull, with Surya creating really beautiful imagery through depth, shadow and colour.

A fantastically dark shot frames one of the bandits making a falsely cordial introduction to Marlina in the background, while Marlina’s dead husband (whose body has been placed cross legged in the corner because she couldn’t afford the funeral costs) sits between them in the foreground. Death literally stands between Marlina and the bandit, a premonition for his future and a reminder of the loss of real love and respect from Marlina’s past.

Despite the dark subject matter, the screen practically swells with colour, with cinematographer Yunus Pasolang capturing the beauty and wry humour in the middle of hard lives. The score riffs off of the classic Western soundtracks composed by the likes of Ennio Morricone, but has its own Indonesian twang.

A tender revenge flick that wants to bring its audience more than vengeance, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts pulls at your heartstrings and takes a stab at the patriarchy in one fatal swipe of a sword.

Read more reviews from Glasgow Film Festival 2018 here!
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